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Siwa Oasis
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Siwa Oasis

Last updated on
7 /10

Place overview

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Siwa (in Arabic: واحة سيوة ) is an oasis in western Egypt, close to the Libyan border and 560 km from Cairo. It is the northernmost of the Egyptian groundwater oases, 300 km from the Mediterranean coast at Marsa Matrouh. Populated by nearly 33,000 inhabitants, it is known to have been occupied since ancient times.

Siwa, together with the neighbouring oasis of Qara, it is the most eastern point of Berber-speaking settlement. Today, the Berber language is spoken in its dialectal form of Siwi (Jlan in Isiwan), with a linguistic Arabisation rate of about 40%. 'Siwa', 'Sioua', 'Syouah' or 'Siouah' are synonymous transliterations for the same oasis also known by the older name of 'Oasis of Ammon' (or Amon).

History

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There is no evidence of any link between Siwa and the rest of ancient Egypt before Dynasty 26. At that time, a necropolis was built there. Legend has it that the army of Cambyses II disappeared near Siwa around 500 BC.

For more than 2000 years, the name of the Siwa oasis has been associated with Alexander the Great. Indeed, it is in the temple of Amun in the heart of this oasis that, in 331 BC, one of the most famous oracles of Mediterranean Antiquity confirmed the divine nature of Alexander, declared son of the god Amun, confirming him in his status of pharaoh2.

In 708, the Arab-Muslims encountered resistance from this Berber oasis whose population did not convert to Islam until the 11th century.

The marketing of date palm products with the caravans (of the trans-Saharan routes) is very old: Siwa knew relative isolation, people came to trade without really staying there.

Since the tarmac road was established in 1984, linking the oasis to Marsa Matrouh (on the coast 300 km away), there has been a beginning of opening up to Egyptian and international tourism.

In recent years, the oasis has changed: motorbikes are replacing donkeys, domestic tourism is developing and many Egyptians are now coming to stay in Siwa (previously there were only foreign tourists).

Landscape

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Situated in a depression made fertile by the gush of several hundred artesian springs and continuous human work, Siwa is on the direct edge of the Libyan desert plateau. In fact, the limestone plateau (often shell) and the inselbergs resulting from its erosion along the sand dunes create reliefs that the Isiwan (inhabitants of Siwa in Berber) call mountains (adrar in Berber, and jebel in Arabic).

Two large salt lakes are fed by agricultural drainage water. Two old earthen fortresses built on inselbergs: shali Siwa and shali Aghurmi are now in ruins.

Agriculture is the main activity in Siwa. It is essentially an irrigated oasis agriculture of gardening in palm groves: market gardening and arboriculture mainly focused on the cultivation of dates and olives, which are partly valorized into oil.

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