The most distant and, in ancient times, the most mysterious and famous oasis in Egypt, Siwa has retained its subtle fascination.
Siwa Oasis is the most beautiful Oasis in Egypt, it’s a time of relaxation, adventure, and meditation. Siwa Oasis is distinguished by the preservation of its virginity and the beauty of nature, which has not been polluted by industrial developments and modern human practices.
The Siwa oasis is different from all the others. First of all, its population is of Berber stock, as is siwi, the typical dialect of this area, and the very name of the oasis seems to have derived from the Berber word swa, the name of a local tribe. Furthermore, Siwa was annexed by force by Egypt only in 1820, during the time of Muhammad Ali. Siwa, whose capital is Shall, is surrounded by over 250,000 palm trees and its territory has 280 thermal springs and some saltwater lakes. Intensely cultivated in several areas
the Siwa Oasis is a leading producer of dates and olive oil (there are over 40,000 olive trees here), but it also grows many types of fruit (in particular oranges and figs) and legumes.
The town of Shall, situated near Lake Siwa (Birket Siwa)’—in which the small Fantasy Island with the famous Fatnas Spring is located—was visited for the first time by a European, the Englishman William G. Browne, in 1792. Its ancient district, which was founded in the 13th century and is now almost totally in ruins, was built by using kershef a typical local material consisting of a mixture of clays with salt, sand, and straw, hence the town’s nickname,’city of mud’ The reasons behind the destruction of Shah have not yet been clarified, but it occurred rather recently, since there are early 20th-century photographs that show the town was still fairly well preserved at that time. It may be that the torrential rainfall of 1926 and 1930 weakened and eventually disintegrated the kershef, but it is also possible that this process was accelerated by the progressive abandonment of the site: when the inhabitants left their homes, they took with them such reusable architectural elements as lintels, doors, and windows.
The ‘Mountain of the Dead, Gebel al-Mawta, made up of calcareous rock, is situated north of Shall. Numerous tombs were cut out of its slopes in a span of time ranging from the 26th Dynasty to the Greco-Roman age. The most famous is the Tomb of Si-Amun, a dignitary who lived in the 3rd century BC, the walls of which are decorated with fine polychrome paintings. On the ceiling is a beautiful portrait of the goddess of the sky Nut, in the midst of the firmament. Other interesting tombs are those of Mesu-Isis, probably a contemporary of Si- Amun, Niperpathot, a 26th-Dynasty priest, and lastly the so-called Tomb of the Crocodile, dating from the Ptolemaic-Roman period.
The spring known as Cleopatra’s Bath
This site, which the locals call AM aI-Hammam or ‘the Bath Spring’ and ancient travelers called ‘the Spring of the Sun,’ is one of the main tourist attractions of Siwa. Situated south of the Temple of Umm Ubayd, the spring is surrounded by date palm trees and thick vegetation and is very popular with tourists and locals alike, even though it must be said that there is no evidence of any connection with the famous Egyptian queen.
A few kilometers northeast of Shall is Aghurmi, a fortified village built on a small, steep, rocky hill entirely surrounded by a huge palm grove. Aghurmi suffered the same fate as Shall and was abandoned after years of torrential rainfall. In the middle of the ruins of this citadel is the most famous monument in the oasis, the Temple of Amun, also known as the Temple of the Oracle since it was the home of one of the most famous oracles in the ancient world. It is probable that the god Amun of Siwa does not correspond with the more famous god Amun of Karnak (although he has all the attributes of the latter, plus a pair of ram’s horns) but derives from a local divinity called Amman that was connected with the springs. Be that as it may, this was the temple that Alexander the Great visited in 331 BC to gain confirmation of his claim to the throne of Egypt by having the oracle proclaim his divine lineage as the son of Jove Amon. Not far from Aghurmi are the ruins of the Temple of Umm Ubayd, built during the reign of Nectanebo II: it is near the ‘spring of the Sun’ mentioned by Herodotus in his Histories and now known as ‘Cleopatra’s Bath.’ Nothing remains of this monument except a single wall that has a long hieroglyphic inscription and is decorated with polychrome reliefs depicting a procession of deities. The rest of the edifice was destroyed, first by a quake in 181 I and then by the inhabitants themselves in 1897.
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