The Siwa Oasis: Seven breathtaking must-visits

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About 800 years ago, during the Middle Ages, inhabitants of the Siwa Oasis, in Egypt’s Western Desert, were constantly attacked by the Berber and Arab Bedouins. In 1203 AD, they had to relocate from their old village of Aghurmi to settle in a fortified village on a mountain to ward off the attacks. The Siwans, the population of whom reached only 40 after the Berber and Bedouin attacks, called their new city “Shali”, which in the Siwan language basically means “the city”.

The old village of Aghurmi

The Siwans didn’t settle for a long time. In 1926, three consecutive days of heavy rain caused the collapse of their houses, that were built from karshif bricks (which were extracted from a nearby mountain and had a high concentration of salt). The Siwans were rendered homeless, and once again they had to relocate.

Karshif bricks, which  have a high concentration of salt

This time the Siwans moved to the base of the Shali mountain, and built their houses around it. Until today, that area is their home.

The Siwans move to the base of the Shali mountain (photo: Segap)

When in Siwa – a travel destination I strongly recommend – don’t miss out on visiting the following places: Shali Mount: Before you enter Siwa’s downtown area, you can see Shali Mount several kilometres away. It looks like a beautifully lit mural at night with spotlights placed at different locations on the mountain reflecting light shades of blue, yellow, green and brown. For my travel companions, the grandeur of the sight of Shali Mount was nothing less than humbling.

Shali Mount

Shali Mount in Siwa (photo: To Know)

Dakrour Mount: Located five kilometres southwest of the centre of the city, Dakrour Mount is the healthiest place in Siwa Oasis. Patients with rheumatic pains flock to Dakrour Mount for cures due to the healing power of its sand. Locals with medicinal experience treat the patients with ointments extracted from the area and by burying the patients in the sand (excluding the patients’ heads, of course) for approximately an hour.

Mohamed Emad, 41, is buried neck-deep in sand in the Dakrour mountain area at Siwa Oasis, 700 km northwest of Cairo (photo: Reuters)

Around September and October, Siwan locals hold a three-day festival atop the mountain. The festival is regarded as an opportunity to settle old scores between feuding families and to announce the engagement of young couples (Siwans are accustomed to marry their girls off at an early age).

Dakrour Mount

Festivities at Dakrour Mount

From atop Dakrour Mount, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the Siwa Oasis, the city and the dunes of the Western Desert which meet with the horizon of the sky in a beautiful painting, especially at sunset.

Siwa at sunset (photo: Some Day I’ll Be There)

Mawta Mount:  This site is not for the faint hearted. Literally translated as Mountain of the Dead, this location contains two remarkable graves. The first contains skulls, skeletons and mummies lying on shelves placed on top of each other. I’d say I’m a strong hearted traveller, but this cemetery gave me chills. My travel companions asked the guards of the cemetery who the remains of the bodies belonged to, all they knew was that these corpses – or rather what remained of them – belonged to Pharaonic Egyptians.

Mawta Mount

Entrance to the cemeteries in the ‘Mountain of the Dead’ in the Siwa Oasis (photo: Forum)

Graves dug into the mountain (photo: Travel)

Take my note, the guards have strict rules about taking photographs inside. So don’t ask. I did and it failed.

Mawta Mount

The second grave belongs to Si-Amun. Inscriptions on the walls of the grave tell that he was of great stature; either a landowner or a rich merchant. The ceiling is magnificently decorated. There is a representation of Nut, the goddess of the sky. Her body is painted light brown but part of her face was damaged during the discovery of the tomb.

Si-Amun tomb in the ‘Mountain of the Dead’ (photo: Egypt)

Si-Amun tomb in Mawta Mount (photo: Egypt)

Mawta Mount is located only 1.5 kilometres from the downtown area. Temples of the Oracle and Amun: These two temples survived time, witnessing the most crucial episode in Siwa’s history. The Temple of the Oracle is located in the village of Aghurmi, four kilometres east of Siwa’s modern city. From afar, the temple appears like a white island floating on a sea of green palm trees. There is little fascination to the temple itself because there are no paintings or inscriptions on its walls. However, the view from the temple, which is erected on a mountain, is enchanting.

Temple of Amun in Siwa (photo: Historvirus)

The Temple of Amun (photo: Sacred Sites)

Sanctuary of the Temple of Amun, Siwa Oasis (photo: Sacred Sites)

The Temple of the Oracle is comparatively well-preserved if compared to the Temple of Amun, which lies only a short distance from the first temple and was constructed during the 30th Dynasty.

The Temple of the Oracle is believed to have housed the famous Greek oracle of Jupiter (phoot: Gat Tours)

The interesting part about the Temples of the Oracle and Amun is their story. Beside the temple built to honour the sun god Amun, another was built to house a divine oracle whose fame in 700 BC was widespread in the eastern Mediterranean. King Cambyses of Persia, son of Cyrus the Great and conqueror of Egypt held a grudge against the oracle, probably because it had predicted that his conquests in Africa would soon falter – as indeed they did.

Temple of the Oracle of Amun

In 524 BC, Cambyses dispatched from Luxor an army of 50,000 men to destroy the Siwan oracle. The entire army vanished without a trace, buried in the seas of sand between Siwa and the nearby oases, and to this day no sign of it has been found.

Temple of the Oracle of Amun

Adrere Amellal Ecolodge: This ecolodge is the masterpiece of Siwa, a top-notch destination in the middle of the desert. If you’re travelling on a tight budget and can not afford to stay at Adrere Amellal (yes, it’s very expensive) then I strongly recommend you at least visit the ecolodge for a few hours.

Adrere Amellal Ecolodge (phoot: Kiwi Collection)

Adrere Amellal Ecolodge (photo: Uniq Hotels)

Adrere Amellal Ecolodge (phoot: Kiwi Collection)

Adrere Amellal is located at the foot of the White Mountain and overlooks the Great Siwa Lake, 25 kilometres from downtown. Constructed in high style, the ecolodge is the meeting point of basic and sophisticated design. It comprises 35 rooms and two suites, and the entire place has no trace of electricity. It is only lit by candles and flambeaus.

Adrere Amellal (photo: Kiwi Collection)

Each room in Adrere Amellal has a distinct character and unique design. Doors are made of palm trees, door knobs of olive trees, beds of palm fronds and bathrooms of red brick extracted from the nearby Fetnas area.

Adrere Amellal Ecolodge (photo: Uniq Hotels)

There are three restaurants in Adrere Amellal: one is made of karshif and gives off the feeling of eating in a salt cave; another is decorated with fossils from the Western Desert; the third is made of mudbricks transported all the way from Aswan. There’s also a bar and lounge, built from materials extracted from a nearby mountain and has Siwan engravings. A rectangular pool is surrounded by palm and olive trees. Once a spring, the water is cold and salty. Adrere Amellal is also equipped with a horse track, and a stable fit for seven horses. Food in Adrere Amellal is planted a couple of feet away from your plate. Tomatoes, dates, potatoes, olives – almost all kinds of veggies and fruits – are all planted in the Adrere Amellal garden.

A rectangular pool surrounded by palm and olive trees

A rectangular pool surrounded by palm and olive trees (photo: Simoon Travel)

Abu Shrouf Spring: If you are on your way to a safari in the Great Grand Sea desert, you are sure to encounter the Abu Shrouf spring, 35 kilometres from Siwa. You have to take a plunge there. The water is warm and inviting. But the thing that sets Abu Shrouf apart from the tens of springs in and around Siwa is that it’s fit for wreck-diving.

A spring in the village of Abu Shrouf (photo: Egypt)

Five metres deep in the spring, there’s a wall built by the Romans, defining the ancient parameters of the spring. Also, all kinds of coloured fish swim in this spring. Abu Shrouf is an experience you might deeply regret not having.

Abu Shrouf Spring

Fetnas: This area is a perfect, peaceful, and romantic setting. There’s a spring in Fetnas for a dozen people to swim in. Except for the spring, the entire area looks like a forest of palm trees. To the back of the forest, there’s a quiet, shady area and a hammock. There’s also a dried lake which has a breathtaking view, especially when the sun rays reflect on its dry mud making it look like a giant mirror.

Relax in Siwa at the Fetnas Gardens by the salty lake (photo: Y Travel Blog)

Fetnas Island

Fetnas Island

By all means, if you have the opportunity to adventure throughout the Siwa Oasis, make sure to visit some of the places mentioned here and let us know of your experiences.