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Introducing Siwa Oasis

Way out in the desert just 50km from the Libyan border, hundreds of thousands of olive and palm trees shade a fertile basin that sits about 25 metres below sea level. Mudbrick hamlets are set among the groves, connected by dirt lanes still mostly travelled by donkey carts. Crystal-clear coldwater springs bubble into deep pools that are irresistibly refreshing on hot days. From the edge of the gardens, the swells of the Great Sand Sea roll to the horizon. Siwa is the archetypal oasis.

Siwa’s geographic isolation helped protect a unique society that stands distinctly apart from mainstream Egyptian culture. Originally settled by Berbers (roaming North African tribes), Siwa was still practically independent only a few hundred years ago. For centuries the oasis had contact with only the few caravan traders that passed along this way via Qara, Qattara and Kerdassa (near Cairo), and the occasional determined pilgrim seeking the famous Oracle of Amun. Today, local traditions and Siwi, the local Berber language, still dominate.

Well worth the long haul to get out here, Siwa casts a spell that’s hard to resist.