ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “oracle

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.

FARAWAY OASIS IN THE GREAT SAND SEA , Siwa Oasis, Egypt

2006.05.31.

In the midst of the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert 560km west of Cairo, Siwa Oasis is one of the most remote destinations and a town deepest in the mighty Sahara that tourists may reach in Egypt. Only 50km away from the Libyan border, Siwa lies in a natural depression about 19m below sea level. Occupied mostly by a group of Berber people who have developed their own culture and distinct dialect Siwi, Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements. Until a tarmac road was built in 1984 to Marsa Matruh at the Mediterranean Coast, Siwa was only accessible by camels. Despite its remoteness, Siwa has long been a famous place in times of antiquity when a Greek oracle temple dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amun was established in about 700 BC. In 331 BC, a celebrated conqueror from Macedon set sail from his newly founded Egyptian city by the Mediterranean Coast to Mersa Matruh, and then marched inland into the desert to reach the remote oracle. His visit has forever put Siwa on the map of history. This military genius is commonly known as Alexander the Great.

Home to spectacular landscapes, ancient ruins and distinct oasis culture, Siwa has been considered as an alternative destination in Egypt away from the popular Nile region and Red Sea resorts. For me, the simple idea of venturing out to the far end of the Western Desert in Egypt was tempting enough. Before the emergence of smartphones, Instagram and even Facebook, Siwa was not a well known tourist destination back in 2006. I learnt about Siwa Oasis from Lonely Planet guidebook. Given the anticipated impact of speedy globalization, I feared that the remote Oasis would turn into a resort town in a few years’ time. Thus I decided to pick Siwa as the last stop of my 2006 Middle East trip.

My journey to Siwa began with a 2.5 hour train ride from Cairo Ramses Station to Alexandria.
From Alexandria, it was another 10 hour bus ride to Siwa with a brief stop at Marsa Matruh.
Upon arrival, I checked in at one of the several simple guest houses in town centre.
Entering the heart of the oasis town via its main road for the first time, I was amazed by the ruined mud fortress, Shali Ghadi, in the middle of Siwa.
Most buildings in Siwa are constructed with local mud and palm logs.
Donkey and horse carts are quite common in Siwa.
There is enough water in Siwa to sustain donkeys and horses.
Local mud bricks and palm logs are the main construction material in Siwa. Erosion from rain and wind would gradually wear down the structures.
My visit was in early summer, and it was extremely hot in Siwa during the day.
As a famous oasis in the Great Sand Sea, palm tree groves are never far away in Siwa.
Donkey cart is the local taxi in Siwa.
During the hottest hours, the town appeared to be empty except occasional kids playing in the streets.
The mud houses in Siwa appear like coming straight out from a movie set.
Cats are everywhere in Egypt, even at the remote desert oasis.
All locals I met in Siwa were very friendly.
While appearing quite empty, Siwa Oasis actually has a population of about 33,000. The whole town is filled with houses.
Many houses in Siwa are covered with plaster over the mud and salt bricks.
In some occasions, text are painted onto the outer walls of houses.
The rough texture of the buildings in Siwa is actually quite photogenic.
Siwa is a great place to stroll around and get lost in. Many tourists, including me, would hire a bike for attractions outside of Siwa.