The most remote and unique of Egypt’s Western Desert Oases is Siwa. Nearly 350 miles from Cairo, this incredible speck of green in the sea of yellow sand that makes up Egypt’s west has a culture and history unto itself.

Siwa’s geographic isolation helped protect a unique society that stands distinctly apart from mainstream Egyptian culture. Today, local traditions and Siwi, the people of Siwa, Siwans, actually speak there own language, which is closer to the Berber of the desert peoples further West than the Arabic spoken in the rest of Egypt.

Siwa is 50km from the Libyan border where trundling donkey carts are still as much a part of the street action as puttering motorbikes and 4WDs. Scattered throughout the oasis are crystal-clear springs, which are a heavenly respite from the harsh heat. At the edge of the oasis, the swells of the Great Sand Sea roll to the horizon

There are an increasing number of hotels ranging from budget hostels to a 5-star eco-lodge in the oasis and the tourist trade is now firmly rooted as part of the local economy, but this has not managed to affect to core of the Siwan way of life yet. It is a very conservative community.

Alcohol is banned and local women are rarely seen outside of their houses, it is very welcoming to visitors and the slow pace of Siwan life incredibly intoxicating.

The entire population of the oasis lived in a 13th century mud-brick fortress at the center of town known as Shali until 1926 when a freak three-day rainstorm destroyed it. Shali is now a tourist attraction, where visitors climb up the melted mound of mud and salt that is the traditional Siwan construction material for views over the expanse of date palm and olive groves that stretched out or miles in each direction. In antiquity, Siwa was famous for the Temple of the Oracle that dates from the 6th century BC and was renowned throughout the Mediterranean world.

Alexander the Great came here to ask about his fate and whether or not he was really the son of Zeus, as his mother had told him. After consulting the oracle Alexander requested that his generals bury him in Siwa. The ruins of the temple are open to visitors today. Also near the town center of Siwa is the Mountain of the Dead, a rocky hill covered in more than 1500 tombs that date back to the late Pharaonic period. Some of the tombs from the Greco-Roman Period are decorated with beautiful and ornate funerary drawings, but these tombs are locked.

Another spectacular place is Fatnas Island, located on the edge of the oasis on the shore of Lake Siwa about 6 kilometers from the town center.

Siwa 1

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