The Siwan House  

Traditional Siwan houses are very economical, as all the building materials are culled from our own gardens or from the salt lakes. Houses are built with karsheef, a stone made of a mixture of clay, salt and fine sand that forms at the shores of the salt lakes. When bonded with clay, karsheef walls become a single, solid unit and are quite sturdy. Ceilings and doors are made of palm wood, and mud and olive leaves help strengthen the roof against the rain. 
Most houses have two floors and a roof top terrace, where we sleep in the summer or sit in the evening for dinners and chats in the open air. The second floor has bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen. The first floor usually has one room called the winter room, or “gharfit nshtee.” It’s a very warm room because it’s small, down below and has small windows. On the cold winter evenings, the whole family sits around a heath called “al kor” – a plate of glowing hot olive wood coals placed in the middle of the room. 
Behind the house is the home bakery, or “stah.” A canopy of palm fronds or reeds provides some shade, otherwise the area is open to allow the smoke from the clay oven to escape. The clay oven, or “tabunna,” is used for baking bread and is fueled with palm branches. Most homes also have two “amunsees,” smaller clay ovens used for regular cooking, although now most people use butane stovetops.  
This house doesn’t cost the Siwan, just his personal labor in the garden. This house is suitable for him year round. It’s almost completely perfect in all seasons, but there is one problem. Although the karsheef stones are strong and dry, and insulate against the heat and cold, and wards off flies and insects – unfortunately it cannot withstand strong rain, which rarely comes to Siwa, but destroy houses. It destroys them completely, as in 1930, 1970 and 1985. Also, the problem the with the palm tree wood – termites. The cellulose of the palm wood is the preferred food of the white ant. These ants grow in some houses, which makes many people to leave these houses because it was the reason of them falling down. It makes them start to build modern houses from white stone, changing the view of Siwa Oasis, which we love to see   

This site is run by
Mohamed Ibrahim Moussa


Fortress Shali - SIWA Oasis