- Location: Between Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea, Libyan Desert, Egypt
- Attraction Type: Ancient City
- Significance: Egyptian and Greek Ruins, Temples, Ancient Necropolis, Therapeutic Baths
- Best Time to Visit: Siwa has comfortable weather condition all round the year. You can visit it practically anytime, but it is preferable to avoid the summer months between May and July.
- How to Reach: Reach Cairo and then book a taxi or take a bus to Siwa. You can drive your own car, but remember desert driving has its own share of risks involved and a special permit is necessary. Otherwise, just opt for a local and experienced tour guide and hired car. You can also travel to Alexandria and then take a bus or a taxi from there to reach Siwa.
- Nearest Airport: Cairo International Airport
Somewhere in the middle of the Libyan desert, the land around the Siwa Oasis gained unbelievable fertility. This oasis attracted desert dwellers and vagabonds from as far as the Arab lands. Its fertility and prosperity became stuff for legends; one orange tree yielded 14,000 fruits and its baths cured rheumatism. God spoke through his sibyls in its temples and the dead lay at rest under the ruby rays of the setting Sun. Siwa in Egypt is an ancient oasis city with a rich history and a bustling trade.
Present day Siwa is located outside the ancient fortress town of Shali, and has an economy supported by a great degree of trade in olive oil, dates and palms, among other goods. It is extremely quaint and beautiful, charming with paved lanes lined with palm, date and olive trees, very much similar to the way it was thousands of years ago. The local people speak not only in Arabic but also in the traditional Berber tongue of Amazigh. Social structure is largely on conservative lines, as expressed by the conservative dress codes of the womenfolk. Tourism has also developed in the recent years as one of the greatest resource earners for the city. It is simply the most beautiful of all the oases in Egypt.
History of Siwa Oasis It is believed that Siwa was inhabited in the 12th century BC. However, not much is known about the city before its occupation by the 26th dynasty of Pharaohs. It was during this time that a necropolis was built in the oasis. The Greeks came to know about the city during their occupation in Cyrene (present day Libya) and built the legendary oracle temple of Zeus on the previously existing Egyptian temple of Amun. The temple, because of its prophetic quality rose to fame right up to the rise of the Roman Empire. A fort city, known by the name of Shali, grew around it.
Siwa came into notice with Alexander’s visit to consult the famous oracle. Although he was not the first individual of note to visit the oracle, he was definitely the most illustrious one. Proclaimed as a god immediately on his entry to the city, Alexandria almost single-handedly brought the ancient town to limelight. Later on Cleopatra VII also visited the baths of the region.
The Romans were not much interested in the development of Siwa, and used it mainly as a deportation site for prisoners. It is probably during this time that Christianity got some foothold in the city, although there is no chronicler or historical evidence to support this fact. The citizens of Shali came face to face with Islam during the invasion of Musa Ibn Nusayr in 708 AD. However, the citizens defended strongly and it was not until the 12th century that the people were actually converted to Islam.
The earliest Europeans to reach Siwa and come to know about the ancient shrines were adventurers like Frederick Hornemann and W.G. Browne, who traveled along with caravans disguised as Arabs. Much relevant information was provided by the notes of Bernardino Drovetti Louis Linant de Bellefonds and others and who accompanied Muhammad Ali, the founder of modern Egypt who conquered Siwa in 1819.
Things to See in Siwa
The Temple of Oracle: The temple of Oracle of Amun Ra is the greatest attraction of Siwa. In ruins now, and the condition is worsening everyday, the temple was once the reason behind Alexander’s visit to the oasis. The temple of Oracle was originally a temple dedicated to Egyptian god of Amun, and was established in the times of the 26th dynasty. Scholars however argue that the temple actually dates back to a much earlier time. The Greeks found the temple at the time they conquered and laid the town of Cyrene, and in an attempt to Hellenize the shrine, turned it into a temple of Zeus, as noted by Herodotus. Apparatntly, Zeus manifested himself here in the shape of a ram. During the Ptelemic age, there were attempts to add Greek touches to its construction.
The temple lost much of its glory during the Roman times. There are historical evidences stating that this was used by a deportation site by the Roman monarchs, which leads to the conjecture that this actually became a Christian place of worship during the Roman age, although there is little evidence to prove it.
The Temple of Oracle is immediately identifiable by its impressive faí§ade, an eight-foot high structure. This opens up to corridors and vestibules that lead to the inner part of the temple to the spot where the sibyl actually proclaimed the Oracle. The temple is situated on the top of a hill, and provides an exceptional panoramic view.
Umm Ubayda: The Temple of Oracle, though the largest, is not the only temple dedicated to Amun in the town of Siwa. The other major temple in the region is temple of Umm Ubayda. In a state of ruin worse than the Oracle Temple, these two temples were joined by a causeway in the ancient days. In fact, the performance of the oracle related rituals necessitated the active perusal of both these temples. A part of the wall with relief of Greek iconography is almost the only thing that remains of this shrine. However, its spectacular location, farther from the old city amidst a grove of olives and palms make it a picturesque destination to visit.
Mountain of the Dead: The first mention of the oasis of Siwa is in connection to its vast necropolis. It is this necropolis — the Gebel al-Mawta or the Mountain of the Dead that continue to be one of the greatest attractions of the city. Placed picturesquely on a mount, this pyramidal structure has tombs covering every inch of its floor, as well as the sides and the niches. The tombs remained unidentified during the middle of the 19th century, although later researchers did successfully manage to identify some of the graves. The earliest tombs belong to the 26th century, and the later ones to the Roman times, although there is not a single Christian burial in this necropolis.
Baths of Siwa
Siwa is noted for the large number of beautiful and medically redemptive baths of the region. There are a large number of bath with excellent facilities that are believed to cure a number of diseases. The Cleopatra Bath is the most beautiful one, and is visited by the most number of tourists. It is also known as the Spring of Juba. Gebel Dakur is another very significant bath in this region. You can also check out the beautiful Fatnas Spring or Fantasy Spring.
If you find the Cleaopatra’s Bath too crowded, you can take a trip to Ain Qurayshat and Abu Shuruf. It is about 19 miles east to the Siwa City, and is much greater and bigger than Cleopatra’s bath.
Accommodation in Siwa
Siwa is gradually developing as a very popular tourist hub. In fact, there are tourists who complain that Siwa is actually becoming too tourist friendly at the cost of its unique flavor. Cleopatra Hotel, Waady Innigoum Hotel, Hotel Siwa Inn and Alexander Hotel are some of the most popular hotels in the region. You must not forget to taste some of the local delicacies during your stay in Siwa.