Welcome to the long,
varied and tumultuous history of Siwa,
from ancient times to the present.
name 'Siwa' means, in Amazigh, 'Bird of prey which
protects the god Amun'.
of Siwa Oasis
According to scientific research dating
from the beginning of the last century, Siwa oasis
was populated in prehistoric times by people who came from
civilisations further west. Their culture
and way of life shared much with those of Libya, North Africa and
the Nile valley.
Since ancient times, from the Greek to Roman eras
and on to the Middle Ages, the oasis was referred to by a
variety of names as witnessed by various inscriptions unearthed in temples and on
tombs. The more recent name Siwa was derived from the name of
the indigenous Ti-Swa tribe.
The ancient oasis of Siwa was crucial to the trade caravans
which crossed the desert from the Nile valley in the east to
the Mediterranean harbours of Libya in the west. Such was its
importance that traders from the southern oases and central Africa
were frequent visitors. Siwa also prospered as a religious
centre, with many kings sending delegates to consult the Oracle of
The era of the 26th Dynasty drew to a close with the invasion
of a Persian army led by Cambesis - though his 50,000-strong
force was later to vanish in a desert sandstorm, leaving no
The Oracle of Amun derives much of its fame from
Alexander the Great's visit in 331 BC. After consulting the
oracle, he claimed to be the son of the god Zeus Amun, and so chose to be buried in Siwa.
Siwa started to go into decline around the sixth century
AD, when many of the pagan temples in Siwa fell out of use
thanks to the spread of Christianity. This period coincided
with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the area's
degeneration into anarchy which culminated in the Arabian invasion of Egypt in
At the height of Siwa's glory, change was swift and the
rewards to victorious assailants were potentially very
high. In the eighth century, the Arabian army arrived to
conquer Siwa. The inhabitants, an ancient tribe of Amazigh people
under Roman rule, were confronted by the Arabian army and given three
choices; one, to join the Arabians, two, to pay
them tribute and live in peace, or three, to fight for their land.
natives bought themselves time by asking for three days to choose their answer.
three-day period they gathered together all their
riches (such as gold, jewellery, precious stones, and Pharaonic
treasures). Then, on the last day, they fled west with all they
could carry. Leaving all their heaviest treasures behind, they
hid them from the Arabian soldiers and cast spells so that
they would be guarded in their absence by the
magical powers of their genie.
At the time, there was a drought throughout the countries of northwestern
Africa, so the Amazigh people set off eastwards, in caravan
formation, searching for grass and water. Then, travelling
scorching sands of the Western Desert, they found the answer
to their dreams - the beautiful oasis of Siwa, with
natural springs and fields of apricot, olive, and palm trees,
all singing with life.
The Amazigh people decided to make their home here and sent word back west to
Algeria and Morocco for their families to come and join them
to strengthen the tribe's power and claim on this fertile
The first city was named Ami Misalum and built in the lowlands
of the oasis. However, this left the Amazigh vulnerable both to
attacks from hostile forces and to mosquitoes. So, in 1103 AD
they built a strong citadel on the
hilltop to protect themselves and their unique culture and
made this their kingdom.
New laws and rules were instituted which, along with the more
secure location, allowed the tribal chiefs to govern Siwa as an
independent state for hundreds of years. For example, in order to irrigate their lands
throughout the night, gardeners had to seek permission
from the chiefs before the Zagala ('strong youth') guards would open
up sthe citadel's doors.
In 1840, however, the independence of Siwa was challenged by the
famed tyrant and Turkish ruler, Mohamed Ali. He sent his
Egyptian army to Siwa, seeking tribute and the submission of
its people to his rule. The Siwans dug a trench around the
base of Shali to prevent the Egyptian army from attacking, but
Ali fired rockets at the citadel, causing great destruction.
He also commanded General Hussein Bek Ashamashurgi to invite seventy-two of the
highest local chieftains to a meeting where they were promptly
killed. So the Siwans were forced to submit.
a new system of Egyptian government was imposed and
the Siwans suffered many hardships, such as paying a one
piastre tax for every palm tree in the oasis. This continued until
1950 when a Bedouin businessman bought all the dates in
Siwa and paid all the state taxes on the trees.
The police chief responsible for the administration of Siwa, El Misseri,
then took control of the oasis. The Siwan people had grown dates from the palm trees to feed the poor and to send
Mecca to help the nation of Islam. But under Misseri's control,
the sheikhs were forced to sign over the trees to him
and he took the proceeds from the sale of the dates for his own
gain. This lasted for four years.
The new challenge for Siwa was how to open up to the world. In
1977, president Mohamed Anwar Sadat visited the oasis and
showed great sympathy towards the people. Later, in 1983, he gave the Siwans a
helicopter to make access to the rest of Egypt
easier. This helicopter was for medical purposes and the transport of necessary commodities. (I had the
chance to fly in this helicopter when I was just baby Mohamed.) We now
have educational support with many schools, starting from
elementary school, all the way to preparation for
university. The provision of child and youth services and
activities was also instituted.
Siwa’s changing fortunes have been reflected in the fluctuations
of its population levels, from forty in the twelfth
century AD to some three thousand at the time of Mohammed
Ali’s invasion in 1805. Siwa continues to expand, and the
population is currently calculated to be around twenty thousand and