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Siwa Oasis, Egypt: Wealth of history amid a sea of sand

May 30, 2014


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.

Siwa Oasis, Egypt Lake

The majesty of Siwa Oasis and its lakes by Tronics, Wikipedia

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.

things to do in Siwa Oasis, pigeon towers

Siwa Oasis pigeon towers by beefortytwo, Flickr

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.

Alexander the Great and Siwa Oasis

Alexander the Great being called the son of Jupiter-Ammon by the priest at the oracle in Siwa

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

Great Sand Sea, Siwa oasis attractions

The third-largest sand accumulation in the world is in Siwa — and spans more than 600 kilometers! [photo by Roland Unger]

Take a dip into the oasis’ sweet, medicinal waters to wash off all that sand by visiting one of over 1,000 springs

things to do in Siwa Oasis, Cleopatra's Pool

While there is no proof that the Spring of Juba, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool, is where this powerful temptress bathed, it is still one of Siwa Oasis’ most popular attractions! [photo by Roland Unger]

Watch the sunrise (or sunset) from Siwa’w top lookouts: Shali Fortress or the foothills of Dakrur Mountain

Shali Fortress sunset, Siwa Oasis attractions

Shali, where the old town of Siwa used to be — until a drastic rainfall destroyed their homes and forced them to live below [travel aficionado, Flickr]

Dakrur Mountain, Siwa Oasis attractions

Due to its location at the dead center of the oasis, Dakrur Mountain offers panoramic views of the settlement [photo by travel aficionado, Flickr]

Drink some lemongrass tea at Fantasy Island (locally known as Fatnis Island) or relax by Lake Siwa

Fatnis Island, things to do in Siwa Oasis

Hidden behind a forest of date palms, Fatnis Island reveals itself magnificently to visitors [photo by Thom Chandler]

Siwa Oasis attractions, hot springs

Another relaxing, yet adventurous thing to do Siwa is to camp overnight next to one of the thermal springs — not far from Lake Siwa [photo by travel aficionado, Flickr]

Delve into Siwa Oasis’ history & culture by having a Berber guide take you to the Temple of the Oracle of Amun / AghurmiThe Traditional Siwa House, Museum of Siwa Traditions, and Graeco-Roman Tombs

Siwa attractions, Temple of Amun

Did Cleopatra VII really made it all the way out here to consult at the Oracle of Amun? Shall remain a mystery… [photo © VascoPlanet.com]

traditional Siwa house museum, things to do in Siwa oasis

The Traditional Siwa House is a simple, living museum where the dwelling of a typical Siwanese family comes to life. [photo: Heather Cowper, Flickr]

Siwa Greco-Roman tombs

Excavated Roman tombs, built like an Egyptian Pharaoh would. Fascinating mix of ancient cultures! Photo by Roland Unger, wiki Commons

Siwa Oasis Museum

Nothing better than a traditional mud brick building to showcase Siwan traditions (TripAdvisor)

Is Siwa Oasis on your travel bucket list?

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One Response to “Siwa Oasis, Egypt: Wealth of history amid a sea of sand”

  1. Nancie Says:

    Hi Maria! What a gorgeous set of shots. I would definitely visit if I was traveling in the area.


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