Siwa Oasis Temples
Arab Republic of Egypt
February 19, 2020
In her book The Western Desert of Egypt Casandra Vivian writes “Siwa is different. It is not Egyptian, but North African. Most Siwans are Berbers, a people who once roamed the North Africa coast from Tunisia to Morocco as early as 10,000 BCE. The Berbers are the true Western Desert indigenous people.”
The Berbers had many visitors: Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Arabs, British, Germans, Italians … and Yours truly.
I visited four of the ancient sites:
The Mountain of the Dead. Gebel al-Mawta.
Located about 560 kilometers northwest of Cairo, Siwa Oasis is home to one of the most important burial sites dating to Dynasty 26. The Mountain of the Dead contains thousands of graves cut in the bedrock, where inscriptions helped to date the oldest graves to researchers and scholars. According to the official site of the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt, burials continued in this cemetery until the late Roman era.
Temple of Amun (Temple of the Oracle)
Siwa was, in its way, a center of Egyptian culture, for a temple there, built to honor the ram-headed sun god Amon-Ra, housed a divine oracle whose fame, by about 700 BCE, was widespread in the eastern Mediterranean.
The most illustrious visitor to Siwa was undoubtedly Alexander the Great. He was acclaimed pharaoh of Egypt after defeating the Persian Darius in the battle of Issus in 333 BC. In 331 he set sail from his newly founded city of Alexandria, reached Mersa Matruh, and marched toward Siwa along the desert route that is still used today.
Temple of Om Obaidah
Just as it was two thousand years ago, it is situated amidst a grove of trees a short distance from the rock of Aghurmi. The temple was at one time joined to the Temple of the Oracle by a causeway and formed an integral part of the rituals related to the Oracle and the god.
The site is marked by a large area of whitish ground. Only one wall stands today among these ruins, though near it are several huge stone blocks. All these blocks seem to be inscribed, and in some places color remains visible.
The pyramid was built in the 30th Dynasty and was mentioned in the story of Alexander the Great visit to the Oasis after conquering Egypt. Until the beginning of the 19th century, a great part of the temple was still preserved, but in 1811 an earthquake caused major damage to the site.
Nevertheless, visitors to the site between the years of 1819 and 1821, including Cailliaud, Drovetti and Von Minutoli, still found much of the temple standing, though they recorded some blocks from the ceiling that had fallen down and one of the temple walls leaning.
Then, in 1897, one of the Ma'murs of Siwa placed gunpowder in the foundations of the temple and blew it up to obtain stones for the staircase of the police station at Qasr Hassunah and for the construction of his own house. Hence, what time and nature could not do was accomplished by an ignorant government official in a few minutes.
One of the most famous attractions in Siwa is Cleopatra's pool, a stone pool fed by a natural hot spring where the Egyptian queen herself is said to have swam on her visit to Siwa.
Tourists have all been doing the same for years now; after all, a nice swim is so refreshing after a hot summer day. You will find a cabin nearby where you can change into your bathing suit but bear in mind that women should give more thought to their swimming attire; the local men aren't used to the sight of a woman in a swimsuit. A tee-shirt is advised.
During my visit, a young Egyptian woman flouted the advice. She took a cool swim wearing only her lovely bikini. She agreed to smile for my camera.
I wonder what Cleopatra wore.