Inhabited since at least the 10th millennium BC, Siwa is an urban oasis in the far west of Egypt. It lies just a stone’s throw from the border with Libya, between the salt pans and marshes of the Qattara Depression and the immense desert of the Great Sand Sea.
Things to do in Siwa
In the heart of Old Siwa is the Shali Fortress, which was built between the 12th and 13th centuries using a unique material made from salt, mud and lake minerals. Its mosque was positioned atop a small hill to protect the local people against attack, and the handprints of its original builders can still be seen on its facade.
A short drive east of Siwa is the Temple of Amun, which was built by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Its whitewashed ruins appear to “float” above the surrounding palm trees and offer magnificent views across the oasis. Nearby are the Fathy Gardens and the Temple of Umm Ubayd, as well as a sparkling pool where Cleopatra is said to have bathed.
On the northern outskirts of Siwa is Gabal al-Mawta (“Mountain of the Dead”), which is etched with rock tombs dating back to Ptolemaic times. Decorated with paintings, many of the tombs were used by locals as shelters when Siwa was bombed by the Italians during World War II. A highlight are the paintings in the Tomb of Si Amun that depict the wealthy landowner praying to the Egyptian gods.
Getting around Siwa
Siwa is around 3.5 hours’ drive from Marsa Matruh and just under seven hours from Alexandria. Cairo International Airport is 8.5 hours away and has flights to destinations across the globe. Regular buses connect to Siwa and the Shali Fortress is best explored on foot. Taxis are readily available for accessing the surrounding sites.