The Siwa Oasis (واحة سيوة Wāḥat Sīwah, from Berber Siwa "prey bird; protector of the sun god Amon-Ra) is an oasis in Egypt, located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert, nearly 50 km (30 mi) east of the Libyan border, and 560 km (348 mil) from Cairo. About 80 km (50 miles) in length and 20 km (12 mi) wide,
Siwi Oasis is one of Egypt's isolated settlements, with 23,000 people, mostly ethnic Berbers who speak a distinct language of the Berber family known as taSiwit. 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 and gave the oasis its name.
Agriculture is the main activity of modern Siwi, mostly dates and olives, supplemented by handicrafts (like basketry). 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.
Although the oasis is known to have been settled since at least the 10th millennium BC, the earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was established. The ancient Egyptian name of Siwa was Sekht-am "Palm Land".
Greek settlers at Cyrene made contact with the oasis around the same time (7th century BC), and the oracle temple of Amun (Greek Zeus Ammon) was already famous during the time of Herodotus. Prior to his campaign of conquest in Persia Alexander the Great reached the oasis, supposedly by following birds across the desert. The oracle is said to have confirmed him as both a divine personage and the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt.
The Romans later used Siwa as a place of banishment. Evidence of Christianity at Siwa is dubious, but in 708 the Siwans resisted an Islamic army, and probably did not convert until the 12th century. A local manuscript mentions only seven families totalling 40 men living at the oasis in 1203.
The first European to visit since Roman times was the English traveler William George Browne, who came in 1792 to see the ancient temple of the oracle.
The oasis was officially added to Egypt by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1819, but his rule was tenuous and marked by several revolts.
Siwa was the site of some fighting during World War I and World War II. The British Army's Long Range Desert Group was based here, but also Rommel's Afrika Korps took possession three times. German soldiers went skinny dipping in the lake of the oracle, which was considered a sacrilege.
The ancient fortress of Siwa, built of natural rock (inselberg), made of salt, mud-brick and palm logs and known as the Shali Ghali ("Shali" for city, and "Ghali", remote), although now mostly abandoned and 'melted', remains a prominent feature, towering five storeys above the modern town.
Other local historic sites of interest include: the remains of the oracle temple; the Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead) Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs; and "Cleopatra's Bath" an antique natural spring. The fragmentary remains of the oracle temple, with some inscriptions dating from the 4th century BC, lie within the ruins of Aghurmi. The revelations of the oracle fell into disrepute under the Roman occupation of Egypt.
Another attraction for tourists is Fatnas Island, which became a palm-fringed peninsula located on the edge of a saltwater lake. The lake had been partially drained in recent years due to a plan to limit the effect of rising water levels in Siwa due to agricultural runoff from uncontrolled wells (a major problem affecting the entire oasis), and Fatnas Island is now surrounded mostly by mud flats.