ultramarinus – beyond the sea

SHALI FORTRESS, Siwa Oasis, Egypt

2006.06.01.

Perched above the town centre stands the 13th century Fortress of Shali is the grand centerpiece of Siwa Oasis town. For centuries, the fortress stood to protect the local Berber community against all outsiders. In fact, few outsiders have ever set foot inside the fortress throughout history. In 1926, a three-day rain caused great damages to the kershif (local salt and mud) buildings of the Shali. The locals abandoned the centuries-old fortress and relocated themselves in new houses adjacent to the Shali. Since then, the mighty fortress was left for self decay and gradual erosion from wind and occasional rain.

In 2018, a joint effort by the EU and the Egyptian company Environmental Quality International began to restore the crumbling ruins of the Shali. The government was hoping that a restored fortress in Siwa would boost eco-tourism in the faraway oasis town. The EU funded project aims to restore traditional marketplaces, upgrades environmental services and establishes a child healthcare centre for the villagers. Not everyone agrees with the restoration. For some locals, the Shali is better to be left in its ruined state and the resources to be spent on something else.

For decades, the Shali fortress has served as an iconic backdrop for the oasis town.
The Shali is also a popular photo spot for tourists.
Wandering in the Shali in early morning was a great way to start my day.
With the arid climate of the Western Desert, it is hard to believe that the fortress was actually destroyed by rain.
The Shali offers visitors some good lookout points for some birdeye’s views of Siwa.
The extent of erosion damages was quite apparent as I looked down from the Shali.
Karshif or kershef, the traditional material made of local clay and salt, has been used to construct many buildings in Siwa, including the Shali Fortress.
Restoration work of the Shali began in November 2020. Time will tell if the project can successfully revive the fortress village and boost tourism for Siwa.The chimney-shaped minaret of the old mosque of Shali is the best kept structure in the fortress.
Completed in 1203, the Old Mosque of Shali Fortress stands today as the oldest monument in the Shali.
Upon restoration, the old mosque would open its doors for future visitors.
Donkeys are kept in walled yard near the edge of the Shali.
Only a few houses in the Shali were still inhabited during my visit in 2006.
Known as Mountain of the Dead, Gebel al-Mawta is a small hill dotted with rock tombs at the northern end of Siwa Oasis.

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