Theme Week Egypt – Siwa Oasis

Tuesday, 23 May 2017 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean
Reading Time:  7 minutes

Historic Center of Siwa with famous mud brick architecture © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0

Historic Center of Siwa with famous mud brick architecture © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0

The Siwa Oasis is an oasis in Egypt, between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Western Desert, nearly 50 km (30 mi) east of the Libyan border, and 560 km (348 mi) from Cairo. About 80 km (50 mi) in length and 20 km (12 mi) wide, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, mostly Berbers who developed a unique culture and a distinct language of the Berber family called Siwi. Its fame lies primarily in its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Ammon, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction which gave the oasis its ancient name Ammonium. Historically, it is part of Ancient Libya.

The ancient fortress of Siwa, known as the Shali Ghadi (“Shali” being the name of the town, and “Ghadi” meaning remote), was built on natural rock (an inselberg) and made of kershif (salt and mud-brick) and palm logs. After it was damaged by three days of heavy rains in 1926 it was abandoned for similar unreinforced construction housing on the plain surrounding it, and in some cases those in turn have been replaced by more modern cinder block and sheet metal roof buildings. Only one building in the Shali complex has been repaired and is in use, a mosque. Gradually eroded by infrequent rains and slowly collapsing, the Shali remains a prominent feature, towering five stories above the modern town and lit at night by floodlights. It is most easily approached from its southwest side, south of the end of the paved road which curves around from the north side of the Shali. Several uneven pedestrian streets lead from the southwest end of the Shali into it, the ground rent in places by deep cracks. Many of the unreinforced kershif buildings bordering the streets of the Shali are also split by large cracks, or they are partially collapsed. Other local historic sites of interest include: the remains of the oracle temple; the Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead), a Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs; and “Cleopatra’s Bath”, an antique natural spring. The fragmentary remains of the oracle temple, with some inscriptions dating from the 4th century BC, lie within the ruins of Aghurmi. The revelations of the oracle fell into disrepute under the Roman occupation of Egypt.

Siwa Central Square © panoramio.com - Raki Man/cc-by-3.0 Modern Siwa © flickr.com - Vyacheslav Argenberg/cc-by-2.0 Siwa spearmint © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0 Pigeon Towers © Roland Unger/cc-by-sa-3.0 Siwa salt lake © flickr.com - tronics/cc-by-2.0 Siwa Oasis with date palm orchards from Tomb_Mountain © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0 Historic Center of Siwa with famous mud brick architecture © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0 Mountain of the Dead © Kevin Gabbert
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Historic Center of Siwa with famous mud brick architecture © Michael Hermann/cc-by-sa-4.0
Agriculture is the main activity of modern Siwi, particularly the cultivation of dates and olives. Handicrafts like basketry are also of regional importance. Tourism has in recent decades become a vital source of income. Much attention has been given to creating hotels that use local materials and display local styles. The traditional culture of Siwa shows many features unusual in Egypt, some reflecting its longstanding links with the Maghreb and the fact that the inhabitants are of Berber origin. Until a tarmac road was built to the Mediterranean coast in the 1980s Siwa’s only links with the outside world were by arduous camel tracks through the desert. These were used to export dates and olives, bring trade goods, or carry pilgrims on the route which linked the Maghreb to Cairo and hence to Mecca. As a result of this isolation, the Berber inhabitants of the Oasis developed a unique culture manifested in its crafts of basketry, pottery, silverwork and embroidery and in its style of dress. The most visible and celebrated examples of this were the bridal silver and the ensemble of silver ornaments and beads that women wore in abundance to weddings and other ceremonies. These pieces were decorated with symbols which related to Siwa’s history and beliefs and attitudes.

The best known of these pieces are a huge silver disc called ‘adrim’ and a torc, called ‘aghraw’ from which it hung over the breast. A girl would give up the disc at a special ceremony at the Spring the day she was married. The jewellery, which was made by local silversmiths, comprised silver necklaces, earrings, bangles, hair ornaments, pendants and many rings. For a wealthy woman, the full ensemble could weigh as much as five or six kilos. These pieces are decorated with symbols common to Berber people across North Africa designed to promote good health, fertility and to protect the wearer from misfortune. Some of the same signs and patterns are found on the embroidery which embellishes women’s dresses, trousers and shawls. The arrival of the road and of television exposed the oasis to the styles and fashions of the outside world and the traditional silver ornaments were gradually replaced by gold. Evidence of the old styles and traditions are however still in evidence in the women’s embroidery and costume.

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Read more on LonelyPlanet.com – Siwa Oasis, Wikitravel Siwa Oasis, Wikivoyage Siwa Oasis and Wikipedia Siwa Oasis. Learn more about the use of photos. To inform you about latest news most of the city, town or tourism websites offer a newsletter service and/or operate Facebook pages/Twitter accounts. In addition more and more destinations, tourist organizations and cultural institutions offer Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet, to provide you with a mobile tourist guide (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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