What is Siwa ?

Siwa Photo Album : img0016 (1)

Siwa
Siwa
Siwa
Siwa
Siwa
Siwa

 

Siwa Protected Area covers 7,800 km2 of the Western Desert. Encompassing key natural and cultural heritage sites, and important ecological corridors, the area extends from the Libyan border in the west to the Qattara Depression in the east, and from the Diffa Plateau in the north to the Great Sand Sea in the south. Although rain is rare, local groundwater gives origin to springs, small lakes and wetlands, nourishing some vegetation, making this one of the remaining strongholds in the Western Desert for several rare, endangered and endemic species such as the slender-horned gazelle, dorcas gazelle and fennec fox. Great Sand Sea covers the Eocene plateau with dunes and sand sheets extending almost 700 km south. Enter the Siwa depression from the south and concealing its southern edge, the dunes of the Sand Sea are mostly of the longitudinal Seif type, with extensive inter-dunes, where the underlying plateau is frequently exposed.

Siwa National park contains three separate parts which are:

  1. Shyata, Um El Ghuzlan and Hatiyet El Kheiba: are a cluster of small, uninhabited oases located west of the Siwa Depression. Located approximately 45 km from Siwa town. Shayata has a small brackish lake, and when military authorities allow access, is available to be visited by groups as part of the itinerary of short safari tours organized by local guides. With the backdrop of the dunes of the Great Sand Sea to the south and the limestone escarpments to the north, the lake and the surrounding vegetation contribute to creating one of the most attractive scenery in the area.
  2. Eastern Oases: Tabaghbaghan exceptional and unique oasis located to the east of the Siwa Depression. Some 15 km long, it is formed along a sloping limestone ridge that is part of the southern margin of the Qattara Depression. Water is discharged by a series of springs along this ridge
  3. Eastern Oases: Bahrein, Nawamisa and Sitra, These oases form a lose cluster lying to the south-east of the Siwa Depression. Characterized by brackish lakes standing against the backdrop of sand dunes, these have enormous charm. The westernmost of them, Bahrein, boasts two lakes and several rock tombs cut into the limestone ridge that bounds the oasis from the north. There areas are fairly accessible and regularly visited by travelers.

Siwa’s wide variety of natural habitats and spectacular landscapes support a rich and unique biodiversity. This is a key area for species typical of Western Desert ecosystems and several of the region’s biological components are rare, unique or endangered.

  • Flora

At least 37 species of wild plants, belonging to 18 families, are found in the desert areas of Siwa and most of the species found are adapted to the extreme arid conditions. Other species, many of them introduced, are found in the areas surrounding the cultivated lands of the oases. Perhaps one of the most significant features is the date palm groves which are represented by some unique varieties and could be of special value as a genetic resource. Other species of botanical interest are the Populus euphratica, a naturalized tree introduced during Roman times probably to help stabilize dunes, and wild cotton, which is classified as an endangered species.

  • Fauna

The fauna of the region is fairly rich, and includes a good representation of species typical of the arid and hyper-arid biome of the Sahara Desert.

  • Reptiles

A total of 32 reptiles and two amphibians have been recorded in this region. Many of these species are widespread Saharan forms, well adapted to life in extreme arid conditions and some are primarily associated with the oases environment. At least 164 bird species have been recorded here, of which only 26 breed locally and 68 are only present in the winter. Other species pass through on their migration to and from wintering grounds further south.

  • Birds

The rich vegetation and water resources of the oases attract many bird species during migration periods. A variety of species can be observed during the spring and autumn, including many small passerines, and several species of birds attracted to wetlands and marshes. Most bird species are associated with the oases’ cultivated lands and wetlands, and are the same as those that characterize the rest of Egypt’s Western Desert oases. Desert species inhabit the fringes of the oasis. These include representatives of the avifauna common in the Western desert ecosystems, such as the hoopoe lark, the white-crowned black wheatear and the crowned sand-grouse. Only two endangered bird species are found with any regularity in the region, the lesser kestrel and the corn crake. Both are migrant visitors.

  • Mammals

Twenty-eight species of mammals are present in the Siwa region. Most of these are associated with desert habitats, with the highest diversity found in uninhabited oases. Smaller mammals comprise several species of rodents. Among carnivores, the area hosts the golden jackal, and three species of foxes, of which two, the Ruppel’s sand fox and the fennec fox, are typical of the more arid habitats. Larger mammals found near Siwa Oasis are two species of gazelles, the dorcas gazelle and slender horned gazelle.

Fascinating vestiges of past civilizations remain in Siwa from throughout the millennia. Remnants of several monuments and other antiquities are found here and in the surrounding uninhabited oases.

The Siwa Oasis was famed in the ancient world as a trading hub for camel caravans crossing the desert eastwards to the Nile Valley and westwards to the Mediterranean harbors in Libya. Siwa also attracted traders from the southern oases and from central Africa. Evidence of the existence of a prehistoric culture (stone tools, petroglyphs and graffiti) are found in several areas such as Shyata, Arag, Bahrein, Tabaghbag and Wadi Lubbaq.

In Roman times, under the emperor Trajan, Siwa developed into an important agricultural region. Olive trees were introduced into local horticulture, which at that time consisted mainly of date-palm plantations. Numerous sites throughout the depression preserve the presses that catered to the empire’s need for oil.

Aghurmi Hill: During the reign of Pharaoh Amasis (26th Dynasty, 570 – 521 BC) a monumental stone-temple dedicated to the oracular cult of the paramount Egyptian deity, Amun of Thebes, was erected on Aghurmi Hill, citadel of the Egyptianised yet politically independent Libyan kinglets of Sa-ntar, as the oasis was called then. Soon to rival Delphi in fame, in the winter of 332/331 BC, the oracle was visited by Alexander the Great to gain Amun’s divine approval for usurping power as Pharaoh.

Umm Ubaydah: A road for celebrating public oracular processions (dromos) linked Aghurmi and the temple of Umm Ubaydah, another sanctuary of Amun built some 400 m further south, during the reign of Pharaoh Nectanebo II (360 – 343 BC). In the Greco-Roman period, the Ammoneion oracular complex comprised at least one other temple, Doricstyle remains of which have been excavated alongside the dromos. Until now, no vestiges dating before the 6th century BC have been discovered in Siwa, or Ammon/Hammon as the oasis was called by Greeks and Romans.

Gebel El Mawta: Another important archaeological site within Siwa is this limestone hill, one kilometer North of Siwa, which contains hundreds of rock cut tombs. The main necropolis in the center of the Siwa Oasis, El Mawta’s tombs date from the Late Egyptian through the Greco-Roman eras. Four of the tombs excavated contain brightly colored paintings and inscriptions.

Sites within Siwa Oasis: These are located both West and East of Siwa town. Sites located West of Siwa include a Doric Temple in the Maraki area, the necropolis of Bilad El Roum and Deheba sites, dating back from the late Ptolemaic to the Early Roman period, and remains of buildings and monuments in Khamisa, Timaseiran and Bahey El Din sites.

Siwa’s Eastern Oases: Several sites are found in this vicinity including the remains of a settlement and temple from the Greco-Roman era at Khoraishet; a small temple, an olive press and the remains of a foundation at Abu Sherouf; a small temple at El Zeitoun; remains of a Greco-Roman village at Sallam; and remains of a necropolis from the Ptolemaic and Roman eras at Abu Al Awaf.

Siwa Depression Outskirts: Thirty kilometers north of Abu Sharuf in the direction of Gara Oasis, the remains of a Greco-Roman village, some rock cut tombs and a small South facing temple are found in El Maaseir site, while a hill with a small temple and an olive press are located near Timeira spring.

West of Siwa Oasis: Rock cut tombs on a hill and the remains of a building foundation are found in Shyata Oasis, while rock cut tombs and the foundation of a building can be seen in Gerba. Foundations of a building are also remaining in Om Asha Oasis, ten kilometers West of Gerba.

East of Siwa: The southern hill of Arag Oasis boasts important archaeological remains; two of the rock cut tombs have stunning decorations: a frieze of a cobra and a sun disk in one, and in the other, a plant design on the walls and stars on the ceiling. The Baharein Oasis is bordered by hills dotted with rock cut tombs and one finds a lake and the remains of a small temple here. Sitra Oasis and Nuwemisa Oasis feature more rock cut tombs as well as the foundations of buildings. At the still inhabited oasis of Al Gara the rock cut tombs are close to the remains of a fortress village (or shali).

The local population represents a unique enclave of ethnic and cultural heritage not present elsewhere in Egypt. The total population living in the region at present is currently estimated at about 25,000, with a growth rate estimated at over 3% per year. The majority of the population of the region is represented by people of Siwan origin, who represent a distinct ethnic group of Berber ancestry and speak the Tamazegh language.

Due to its long-lasting isolation, Siwa has retained many peculiar cultural traits, including a well-defined social organization based on a tribal system, with each tribe depending on a Sheikh elected by consensus of all households. There are ten traditional tribes (qabilas) established in Siwa and in the separate but socially related oasis of Al Gara. To these, a more recent tribe of Bedouin origin (El Shehaibat tribe) can be added, bringing the total to eleven.

The traditional way of building in Siwa developed in the 12th century made extensive use of karsheef. Karsheef is a stone comprised of salt and fine sand mixed with clay, and hardened by the action of water and the baking sun. The use of karsheef is found only in the Siwa and Al Gara Oases. Siwa’s ancient, multi-storied fortified village, called Shali, was constructed in karsheef, and its buildings has several stories. It is now largely in ruins, although some intact houses remain at its edges. This traditional style of architecture is one of the main points of interest for visitors.

Siwa Oasis has a rich craft tradition including baskets made from palm tree leaves and pottery. Embroidered women’s clothes produced with colorful silk are one of Siwa’s most expressive crafts, but the practice is vanishing. Siwa also had an elaborate silver jewelry tradition which may still be revived.

Park Location:

Siwa is located in the Western Desert, 627 km from Cairo and 306 km southwest of Marsa Matruh. It is a 10-hour drive from Cairo via the north coast or the Baharia road.

Getting there:

Siwa is connected to Marsa Matrouh by a 300 km asphalt road. Transportation is provided by buses running several times a day. A network of asphalt roads connects Siwa and the main villages of the oasis, and transportation to the villages is provided by local bus. The village of Al Gara is connected to Siwa by a 130 km dirt road off the road from Matrouh to Siwa.

Entrance & Lodging:

Numerous hotels and ecolodges from high-end to backpacker’s in the town of Siwa.

Climate:

Siwa region falls in the extremely arid zone of Egypt characterized by hot and dry conditions in summer and autumn, and warm and dry conditions in winter and spring. Temperatures are moderate in winter and very high in summer. Average maximum temperatures are 20o C in January and 38o C in July and average minimum temperatures are 4o C in January and 21o C in July. The hottest months of the year are June, July and August.

Visitor Center:

This two story building has a large room on the second floor which is used to show visitors videos on Siwa. They provide a simple map and a color booklet with general information about the oasis.

Contact Information:

Tel: (046) 460-0870
Fax: (046) 460-0871