A “nomadic” guide to the paradise of the western desert in Egypt

Places have souls, and Siwa’s soul is kind, mystical, and motherly. In the heart of the Western Desert, lies the majestic oasis with its unique Amazigh culture and breathtaking views. This desert paradise is located 560 kilometers from Cairo, between the Qattara depression and the great sea of ​​sand. We were fortunate enough to experience and breathe the ancient city ourselves with Nomads, a prolific Egyptian travel group that for years has sparked the envy of Egyptian travelers with their carefully curated, immersive trips. Their last excursion took us headlong into a very unique experience that perfectly ties the meditative setting of the oasis to the history that surrounds it.

Nestled at the foot of the Red Mountain – four kilometers from the Temple of the Oracle – we found our home at Taziry Ecovillages. The living room includes 40 Berber-inspired rooms with date palm ceilings, creating a sustainable village built with local materials and techniques. It overlooks a magnificent palm grove and their market, housing 50 craft workshops reviving the know-how in terms of sustainable life of the ancestral natives of Siwa. They also built a library and a museum to showcase not only the wonders of Berber arts, literature and music, but also the universal sciences that pursue and stimulate sustainable development.

During the trip, we discovered tombs from the Ptolemaic era, natural hot springs springing from the earth, the healing powers of salt crystals and the rich heritage of the Siwi people – these are our attractions and activities. essentials.

Chali fortress

In the literal heart of Siwa, Shali Fortress is an ancient walled city built in the 13th century. Walking around this imposing ancient city of clay and salt is like stepping back in time, with its walls fashioned from a local mixture of mud, clay and salt known as kershef. Shali Fortress, built on a hill, has been the center of Siwan’s life for over 800 years. Originally, there was only one gate in the oasis, which had to be accessed through the fortress, and protected the Siwi people from looters.

Over time, through multiple battles, and after a powerful rainstorm, the fortress naturally deteriorated. A recent renovation project by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has given it back its former glory. If you are able to climb the stairs of its tallest structures, you sign up for a view like no other.

Spring of Cleopatra (Spring of Juba)

Coming out of the ground, this natural spring is not the only one in Siwa, but it is the most popular. Located in the heart of the city, this is where many locals first learn to swim. Although the well was never visited by Cleopatra herself, as the name suggests, it is reminiscent of the hot water baths for which the Egyptian queen was known.

The natural sulfuric spring water gushes into a large stone pool and is a perfect way to relax after a day of exploring or to wash off the salt from nearby lakes. The well is also surrounded by cafes and small restaurants with comfortable shaded lounging areas to recharge after your swim.

Fetnas Island (Fantastic Island)

Fetnas Island, or Fantasy Island as most tourists call it, is a scenic piece of land on Lake Siwa, a short drive from the town. Bordered by rustling date palms, with the great sea of ​​sand yawning beyond them, the island is a perfect place to watch the sun set behind the rocky outcrop over the lake while sipping mint tea in the two small cafes on the island. There are hammocks, chairs and at night there is even a fire pit to beat the cold desert breeze.

Jebel Mawta (Mountain of the Dead)

This outcrop is an ancient burial place of ancient Romans and Egyptians, dotted with empty tombs. Jebel Mawta (or “Mountain of the Dead”) is located at the northern end of Siwa. Its tombs cover the mountain from base to top, and it is one of the most fascinating and mysterious places to visit in Siwa. The tombs date as far back as the Ptolemaic era. One of the most interesting tombs is that of a Roman, Si Amon, who decided to make Siwa his home.

The importance of the mountain has continued well into modern times. During World War II, when the Italians bombed Siwa, local Siwans took refuge in the graves of Jebel Mawta. It is indeed at this time that the most magnificent tombs of the mountain were discovered.

There are no cameras or tripods allowed inside the tombs, but visitors are welcome to use their cell phones. As the mountain is located on the outskirts of town, you will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the oasis with the wind blowing your hair – that is, if you make it to the top of the mound.

Temple of the Oracle (Temple of Alexander)

One of the most important temples in Siwa is the Temple of the Oracle. This temple dates back to the 26th Dynasty and was visited by Alexander the Great. It was there that he was told he was a son of Zeus, which helped the emperor consolidate his rule over the region. The hidden hallway that runs along both sides of the main temple chamber is just about large enough for a person to comfortably walk around. Rumor has it that if you call from within, those inside the temple chamber may be inclined to believe that you are the voice of the Oracle.

A short drive from the Temple of the Oracle, you’ll find a single decorated wall amidst ruins. This lonely wall is all that remains of the vast temple of Amun. This once magnificent temple was almost completely destroyed in 1896 when a local Ottoman governor razed the entire structure with dynamite, hoping to use temple stone for the building blocks.

Siwa market

Walking through Siwa Market is a bit like walking through an open-air museum of an ancient civilization. The streets are lined with bakeries, cafes and small restaurants, giving off an air of organized chaos not unlike that of Cairo markets.

Siwa is known for its remarkable dates, olives, herbs, teas, jams and syrups, all of which you can find in the shops in the market. What you really shouldn’t miss, however, are the famous lamps and handicrafts made from the salt mined from Siwa’s own iconic salt lakes, which are said to have healing and stress-reducing powers. The export of salt is at the heart of Siwan’s economy. In fact, the destination was crowned Land of Salt due to the oasis’ natural salt lakes, from which salt is used for, well, everything. From building their homes and work tools to the products they export, including beauty products and spa treatments, you’ll be able to browse dozens of natural skin and body products drawn from the healing powers of crystals. salt.

Djellabas – common dresses – can also be found within these stalls, rich in jewel tones and embroidered designs native to North African tribes. Their traditional Amazigh textiles, clothing and accessories make lasting memories.

Salt Lake Quarry

Visiting the salt lakes is not an optional excursion. We do not want to diminish all the cultural treasures that surround it by saying that it is the whole point of visiting the Siwa oasis but hey, it is in a way.

Between palm trees and the vast desert, nestled amid mountains of excavated salt, you’ll find emerald blue waters so enchanting that few visitors can’t help but approach them.

The Siwa Salt Company is leading the excavation operation that surrounds the salt lakes, but visitors are welcome to enter the quarry and bathe in the lake’s mineral-rich waters. These waters have one of the highest water-to-salt ratios in the world, even higher than the Dead Sea in Jordan, which means anything that enters its waters is floating and no species can live there.

Yoga classes

When you are surrounded by breathtaking nature, Siwa already puts you at peace almost immediately, while the stress of city life vanishes like a bad dream. Now imagine magnifying that with one of the oldest forms of decompression in the world – yoga. Practicing yoga in Siwa is an amazing experience that will deepen you and inspire you if you are a regular practitioner. If you are not, then you may become addicted. We joined yogi Nasrin Halawa in a morning yoga session where we soaked up the tranquility in front of the idyllic Shali Fortress.

Sandboard

In what you can expect to be an incredibly calming trip overall, sandboarding in the Great Sand Sea is one of the few ways to incorporate adrenaline into your travel itinerary. Before sunset, head out into the desert to climb the dune tops and slide down as the colors of Siena’s skyline materialize.

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About Wesley V. Finley

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