Close your eyes for a second. Imagine a cooling breeze, slowly erupting goosebumps on your skin. The smell of lamb kebabs cooking over a bonfire. Now open your eyes: you are surrounded by vast sand dunes, date palm forests, and even a freaking lake. Where are we?! About 50 km east of the Libyan border at the Siwa Oasis, Egypt.
Some of the most striking landscapes, deeply embedded into my memory from living in Egypt for a year. Not only is Siwa one of the country’s most isolated settlements, but it is probably the one Egyptian place where you can truly experience Berber culture firsthand.
Brief Siwa Oasis history, introduction, and some fun facts
It is believed that Siwa Oasis has been inhabited since the Paleolithic times. Furthermore, some historians debate that it could have been the capital of an extensive, powerful ancient kingdom that encompassed Qara, Arashieh and extent as far east as the Gulf island of Bahrein!
Strangely enough though, there’s no record whatsoever of the oasis from the Old, Middle or New Kingdoms — which raises the question as to how the settlement was incorporated into Egyptian realm. Some believe it could have been conquered by Ramses III, as there’s evidence of it being part of an Egyptian empire by the 26th Dynasty; while others maintained that Siwa oasis remain an independent kingdom, ruled by a Libyan tribal chief, well into Roman times.
Doubts aside, there’s a consensus as to who put Siwa on the map (so to speak!): the Greeks. Most notably is the visit of Alexander The Great to the Oracle of Amun, almost immediately following the conquering of Egypt and establishment of Alexandria. This, of course, was after fooling death a couple of times: not only did his caravan get lost and ran out of water, the day even got caught under a rainstorm. In the desert. No wonder why he was pronounced god upon arrival to Siwa’s Oracle…
Another fun fact? It is believed even Cleopatra VII made it all the way out here to consult with the Oracle and bathe in the spring, now named after her.
Things to do in the Siwa Oasis: landmarks, attractions
Hike a sand dune the size of ENGLAND and take a thrilling 4 x 4 tour in a visit to the Grand Sand Sea
Take a dip into the oasis’ sweet, medicinal waters to wash off all that sand by visiting one of over 1,000 springs
Watch the sunrise (or sunset) from Siwa’w top lookouts: Shali Fortress or the foothills of Dakrur Mountain
Drink some lemongrass tea at Fantasy Island (locally known as Fatnis Island) or relax by Lake SiwaDelve into Siwa Oasis’ history & culture by having a Berber guide take you to the Temple of the Oracle of Amun / Aghurmi, The Traditional Siwa House, Museum of Siwa Traditions, and Graeco-Roman Tombs