The ancient fortress of Siwa, built on natural rock (an inselberg), made of salt, mud-brick and palm logs and known as the Shali Ghadi (“Shali” being the name of the town, and “Ghadi” meaning remote), although now mostly abandoned and ‘melted’, remains a prominent feature, towering five stories above the modern town.
About 50 mi in length and 12 mi wide, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, mostly ethnic Berbers who speak a distinct language of the Berber family known as Siwi. Its fame lies primarily in its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Amon, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction which gave the oasis its ancient name Ammonium. Historically, it is part of Ancient Libya. Its modern name Siwa, first attested in the 15th century (earlier Arab geographers termed it Santariyyah), is of uncertain origin.
Basset links it to a Berber tribal name swh attested further west in the early Islamic period, while Ilahiane, following Chafik, links it to the Tashelhiyt Berber word asiwan, a type of prey bird, and hence to Amon-Ra, one of whose symbols was the falcon.
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 play on local styles.
Photo Credit: Mikael