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Fortress of Shali, Siwa Oasis
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ADDRESS
Main Square
Siwa Oasis 11211
Matruh, Egypt
ACTIVITIES
Ancient Ruins
 
 
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Western Desert, Egypt

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

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The crumbling ruins of Shali Fortress dominate Siwa's main square and are one of the main reasons for a trek to this idyllic desert oasis. Built in the 12th century to protect oasis inhabitants from foreign invaders as well as mosquitoes, this mud brick citadel once housed more than 600 people in four to five story abodes. Consider the majesty of this fortress before the rains melted the salt, one of the principle materials of karsheef, and washed it away. Can you imagine what life in the Fortress of Shali was like?
Fortress of Shali
Rain damage at Shali

Rain damage at Shali

Alfredo De Simone

 
The crumbling ruin of the Fortress of Shali may not look like much today but this mud brick citadel is unique in the world of architecture. The brown walls of Shali aren't made from dirt or clay as you might think but a mixture of rock, sand and salt, called karsheef, that when hardened in the hot desert sun is as strong as brick. Salt, the building material that makes this fortress unique, is the cause of its demise. Salt dissolves in water as everyone knows. And while precipitation is not at all common in this corner of the Sahara, heavy rains have fallen three times in the last century causing the walls of Shali to disintegrate.
 
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A living science experiment

Submitted on 15 February 2008 by snowedunder from Monza, Italy
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My 9-year-old daughter is no expert in architecture yet she found the Fortress of Shali fascinating. When she discovered that the citadel's mud brick walls were made with salt the crumbling ruins were quickly understood. Documenting the affects of rain on salt bricks became her mission for the day. 'I have to show this to my class!' Climbing the ruble made the task that much more fun. 
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