Siwa Oasis grabs the imagination. A secluded settlement in the depth of the Sahara Desert known only to camel caravans that connect lonely cities of the sandy vastness of northern Africa. It is located north of the Great Sand Sea in Egypt.
A settlement made from mud-bricks and coated with salt from the nearby lake in the undying belief that the desert would continue to be bereft of rain for the coming centuries. The lake is so saline that swimmers can float in it as in the Dead Sea of the Middle East.
Siwa Oasis is a historical wonder hidden in the Sahara Desert on the western border of Egypt with Libya. It is five hundred kilometers from Cairo in the south west of Egypt. The mud brick structures make Siwa look like the set of an Indiana Jones movie or an older, eroded and straighter version of Mos Espa of Star Wars fame in Tunisia. Siwa is an oasis in the middle of a vast desert. A boon of nature causes fresh water to come up from thousands of years old underground rivers to form life giving pools. The water also contributes to the growth of green forests of palm and olive trees around this ancient caravan city.
Siwa has been an isolated oasis for thousands of years known only to travelers on the caravan trails. It was famous three thousands years ago for the Oracle of Amun. Alexander the Great came to the Oracle at Siwa Oasis and was declared a god on earth by the famous oracle thus legitimatizing his conquests.
The isolated location of the oasis amidst the vast Sahara Desert gives it an insular and unique identity and a language which is called Siwi. The residents are descendants of Berbers the indigenous people who roamed the north coast of Africa from Morocco to Tunisia.
An attractive tourist spot is the mud fort of Shali around which the present city of the same name is located. The architecture of Shali the fort is unique in that it uses only mud bricks. That is the reason that the fort of Shali virtually melted first in a rain storm in 1926 and then had to be permanently abandoned after another devastating shower in 1982. This is when the fort became the centerpiece for the new city of Shali which came up around it.
The mountain of death is a mound made up of desecrated tombs littered with bones of the dead. It was a popular burial spot because of the proximity of the famous Oracle. People as far away as in Cairo would send their dead to be buried here. Unfortunately the mountain had limited burial space. Thus the grave diggers would pull out an old coffin and throw away the bones outside the crypt. Over the centuries the bones and mud have combined to make a mountain of impressive proportions.
There are hot springs and cool springs to swim in for the intrepid wayfarer. While taking a dip in the waters it is best for women to remain covered in clothes because of local sensibilities. A ride on a popular mode of transport—a donkey cart—is a must. Siwa Oasis is so unique that even the muezzin’s call has a mellow dreamlike tone to it.
There are hotels in Shali where you can spend a day for as little as twenty dollars. Make sure to take an experienced guide who is equipped with GPS systems and compasses. The desert road becomes inundated with sand and disappears. Famously an army of invaders disappeared in the massive dunes of the surrounding Sahara.
Courage and common sense are needed to unveil the erstwhile Dark Continent. It is revealing its bright features to inquisitive travelers of the world.