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Siwa Oasis, Egypt
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Shali, Siwa Oasis

 

Photo by Alfredo De Simone

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The oasis of Siwa is more than the gateway to the Great Sand Sea. This once sleepy frontier town, less than 50 kilometers from the border of Libya, has a rich cultural history. Siwa is home to Egypt's only native Berber population as well as the famed Temple of the Oracle. Alexander the Great traveled here and obtained the confirmation he sought. The priests addressed him as deity and established his right to rule Egypt. Famous for its olives and dates, Siwa was once an important stop on the Caravan Route. But to protect the oasis from hostile invaders the Siwans built the Fortress of Shali in the 12th century and for hundreds of years no one went in. And while Siwa first appeared on an Egyptian map in the 26th dynasty, it was likely settled long before that. Flints found in the area suggest that Siwa was inhabited during the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras when the barren desert was a lush savannah. But before you brave the long trek across the desert from Bahariya or south from Marsa Matruh on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, take note. This difficult to reach destination is no longer solitary. In the peak season tourists and tour buses can give Egypt's most picturesque oasis an amusement park feel. Visit off peak but don't stay home.
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