Siwa is different. Tucked away in Egypt’s westernmost corner on the northern shores of the Great Sand Sea, Siwa Oasis lies closer to Libya and the Maghreb than to any of its fellow Egyptian urban centers. Its geographic isolation helped protect a unique society that stands distinctly apart from mainstream Egyptian culture. Settled by Berbers (roaming North African tribes), for centuries the oasis had contact with only the few caravan traders that passed along and the occasional pilgrims seeking the famous Oracle of Amun.
Siwa’s main attraction is the oasis itself: Sustained by more than 300 freshwater springs and streams and shaded by an estimated 300 000 palm trees and 70 000 olive trees Siwa is the archetypical oasis.
Bir Wahed, also transliterated as Bir Waheed and as Bir Wahid, is a sulfurous hot spring, the size of a large jacuzzi on the shores of the Great Sand Sea. Cooling off in the nearby freshwater lake and watching the sun setting over the dunes is a surreal experience.
The springs of Siwa are famous throughout the Western Desert. Cleopatra’s Pool, also known as Cleopatra’s Bath or Spring of the Sun, is a large, circular stone pool filled with crystal-clear, bubbly water. Ironically, Cleopatra probably never bathed here.
Fatnas Island is a palm-shaded island in the midst of Lake Siwa. It makes a great spot for spectacularly colorful sunsets.
Fortress of Shali
The center of Siwa is dominated by the spectacular organic shapes of the remains of this 13th century mudbrick fortress. Built in the traditional kershef technique (mud and salt mix) Shali was finally abandoned: Not because of a military conquest but because of three days of rain in 1926 which caused more damage than any invader had managed.
Visible from all points in the oasis the triple-peaked Gebel al-Dakrur (or Gebel al-Takrur) serves as a landmark and offers spectacular view from its summit.
The Gebel al-Mawta, literally the Mountain of the Dead, is riddled with tombs from the 26th Dynasty (664 BC–525 BC) and the Ptolemaic era (305 BC–30 BC) carved into the side of the rock.
Temple of the Oracle
Located in the town of Aghurmi, some 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) south of Siwa, stand the remains of the temple of the famous Oracle of Siwa. The Oracle was once the main reason for coming to Siwa. Its most famous pilgrim was probably Alexander the Great who came here to consult it in 331 BC after liberating Egypt from Persian rule.