ultramarinus – beyond the sea

CYCLING IN THE SUMMER HEAT, Siwa Oasis, Egypt

2006.06.04.

Cycling is a popular way to take in attractions that lie further afield from the oasis. Renting a bicycle was quite easy in the town centre. Under the scotching summer heat of around 45 degrees Celsius, riding the bike in Siwa means one has to get a drink every half an hour. That was exactly what I did. Without smartphone or a proper map, cycling by myself also forced me to interact with the locals to ask for directions. With a bike, I was able to venture out a little further away from the town centre to visit the Temple of the Oracle, the Holy Temple of Amun that Alexander the Great visited over two thousand years ago; Fatnas Island, a laid back and lush green area right by Lake Siwa and Gebel al Mawta, the Mountain of the Dead carved with many rock tombs.

Cycling around Siwa brought me to the neighborhood near the Temple of the Oracle.
Under the mid morning heat, I could hardly see anybody outside their homes.
It wasn’t easy to find somebody to ask for directions in the mostly abandoned Aghurmi village near the Temple of Oracle.
The most famous temple of Amun, also known as the Temple of the Oracle. Full of legends and history, the temple was well known in the Classical world after the visit of Alexander the Great, who came all the way into the desert from Alexandria after his conquest of Egypt.
Other than Alexander, the temple was also visited by other legendary visitors such as Perseus, Hercules, etc.
According to legends, two black priests from the Temple of Amun in Thebes went into exile in the desert, and one of them settled in Siwa and became the Oracle’s sibyl. Some say the Temple of Oracle dates back as early as 1385 BC in honor of Ham, the son of Noah. Another legend has it that the temple was erected by the Greek god Dionysus. The exact origin of the temple remains a myth.
200m from the Temple of Oracle stood the ruins of Temple of Umm Ubayd (Temple of Amun). Thanks to Mahmoud Azmy, an Ottomon police chief who decided to blow up the temple in the late 19th century, not much is left at the temple site except some inscriptions and bas relief on a stone wall.
After the temples, I continued to cycle around Siwa.
It was awfully hot during midday. Every time I passed by a store I would get a bottle of soft drink.
On my way to Fatnas Island, I passed by some waterways feeding into Lake Siwa.
Fatnas Island is a famous palm grove by Lake Siwa. Sometimes the lake looked pretty dry with salty mudflats.
Instead of an island, Fatnas is in fact a peninsula in the salt lake.
Known as “Fantasy Island”, Fatnas Island is a good spot to watch sunset with a cup of tea.
Siwa is famous for its date palms.
For 3000 years, the farmers of Siwa Oasis have been harvesting the chewy Siwa Oasis dates.
Excessive drainage have turned the lake into salty mudflats.
Known as the Mountain of the Dead, the Gebel al Mawta was an ancient graveyard 1km north of the oasis town.
Hundreds of burial holes were carved in the soft sandstone.
After two thousand years, not much is left in the tombs, except the undulating cratered landscape of the rock hill.

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