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Siwa - The Oracle of Amun

Siwa is the westernmost of the five major oases of Egypt and can be reached by car from Baharia or from Marsa Matruh, on the Mediterranean coast. In comparison with the other oases, the most striking feature of the Siwan landscape is the presence of several salt lakes, that diminish in size during the summer. The salt also impregnates the soil, creating a big problem. Mud bricks have been used for centuries to build entire village fortresses, and are called "qasr" in Arabic, such as Shali in Siwa, Qasr in Farafra, Qasr Dakhla in Dakhla and Qasr Kharga in Kharga. In recent times, all of them have suffered mainly from the rain rather than any human devastation. Shali, in particular, has now been reduced to an impressive and dangerous ruin due to the high content of salt in its mud bricks.

To the tourist, Siwa offers a wide range of beautiful traditional products: baskets made of palm fronds and decorated with coloured threads, embroidered fabrics and dresses, and the famous and highly prized Siwan silver jewels, including elaborate necklaces with pendants of various shapes, large incised bracelets and rings, and heavy earrings with chains and bells - being too heavy to be worn as earingss, they are left hanging on both sides of the head suspended from a leather strip.

There is a lot to see in Siwa, but probably one of the most famous sites is Aghurmi, where the remains of the ancient Temple of the Oracle of Amun are found. The temple was built during the XXVI Dynasty of the Egyptian kings and the Oracle became one of the most important of the Greek world. Two important historical events are related to this place: the tragic expedition of Cambyses' army (which will be mentioned in the paragraph about Farafra) and the triumphal visit of Alexander the Great.




When Alexander arrived in Egypt, after having founded Alexandria, he headed to Siwa to consult the Oracle. After a dangerous trip, he finally reached the oasis and his effort was rewarded by the Oracle, who pronounced him a god.

After that, Alexander resumed his unstoppable conquest of the Middle East but when he died, his body was apparently returned to Egypt for burial. His tomb has never been found.

Siwa is surrounded by a number of minor oases. The small Qara Oasis, where Alexander is said to have camped on his way to Siwa, is very isolated and hosts only a small population. El-Harag, Baharein, Sitra and Nuwemisa are today abandoned, but groups of uninscribed rock-cut tombs suggest that the area was inhabited probably during Roman times. El-Harag lies in vast and impressive depression where the rocks have wonderful colours and the landscape changes continuously, while the other three consist of small lakes surrounded by vegetation and set among rock outcrops and sand dunes. These oases are the ideal destination for a tour on a 4x4 from Siwa. Just remember that "Nuwemisa" means more or less "place of the mosquitoes" avoid it at sunset or prepare yourself to be eaten alive.

North-east of Siwa there is the vast Qattara depression, over one hundred metres below sea level, covered by salt. The region from Siwa to the Mediterranean coast was the scene of more than one battle during World War II, and the area of el-Alamein hosts memorials and war cemetery for the thousands of British, German, Italian, Greek and South African soldiers who died or disappeared there.
(Corinna Rossi)



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