siwa oasis history
siwa oasis history is different, It is not Egyptian, but North African, Most Siwans are Berbers, a people who once roamed the North African coast from Tunisia to Morocco.
The Berbers are the true Western Desert indigenous people.
As early as 10,000 BC,
they inhabited the areas the land dried, they moved toward the coast; as conquerors invaded, they moved to the interior. When the Arab invaders came in the seventh century they slowly changed the sedentary Berbers until, by the twelfth century, the Berbers were also Bedouin, nomads.
Because of this connection,
the Siwan language, traditions, rites, dress, decorations, and tools are mostly alien to the other oases in the Western Desert. They are more closely aligned with the peoples of the Maghreb, the northern coast of Africa from Tripoli to Morocco. This is also true of the history of the oasis.
Wilfred Jennings-Bramly wrote that Siwa “cannot be said to have fallen from its high estate, for it is probably much as it was when Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Pliny thought it worthy of mention; only it has stood still while the world went on.” Twenty years ago the 1890s comment still applied.
No longer. Centuries have been wiped away in a few decades.
Siwa has answered to a host of names through the centuries: it was called Santariya, the Oasis of Jupiter-Amun, Marmaricus Hammon, and Field of Palm Trees.
In 1824, Pacho came to Siwa a number of times during his six-month North African
journey. None of his findings was made known. By 1837, travel to Siwa was considered
established their first zawya ofthe entire Western Desert here in 1843~
(For details on the Sanusi, see Chapter One.) In 1847, Bayle St. John stayed for some time
in Siwa. His fine book, Adventures in the Libyan Desert, published in 1849, offers excel-
lent information about Siwa at that time. He was permitted to see the gardens and the
temple but was not permitted to enter Shali.
James Hamilton, Siwa’s next visitor, did not fare as well as St. John. His camp was
invaded in 1852 by the zaggala (see below) and Hamilton became a virtual prisoner of
Yusif Ali, an untrustworthy person who put Hamilton rn harm s way only to pretend to
rotect him. The Siwans wanted Hamilton dead. Ali, after aggravating the situation, took
ll-Iamilton into his home and under his protection. Then Hamilton managed to have two
letters smuggled out of Siwa to the viceroy. On March 14, 1852, 150 cavalry and four-
teen officers approached Siwa oasis history and Nile cruise. A week later, according to Belgrave,
Hamilton was on his trip of Siwa oasis history
accompanied by Yusif Ali. waliglli viiouliil think by this time someone would have gotten the message: the Siwans wanted to be left alone. But because of the Hamilton incident and the failure of Siwan dignitaries to appear in Cairo as promised, the viceroy sent two hundred men to the oasis.
They made life very difficult for the Siwans, committed robbery, stole women, and shot
anyone who spoke out.
Finally, Yusif Ali
was appointed governor, a mixed blessing.
Freedom was not to be. In 1854, a new ruler took the reins in Egypt. He gave amnesty
to all the Siwan prisoners.
When they arrived in Siwa, they went after YusifAli, who was
part of the reason they were all in jail. He escaped but was caught and killed. In 1857, a
or was dispatched to Siwa.
, of whom we have heard so much in this book, came to Siwa in 1869 and 1874. Rohlfs observed that one of the reasons the Siwans were getting into so much trouble over paying their taxes was that the Sanusi, who controlled the oasis, told them not to pay.
They were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Egyptian government
was hundreds of kilometers away while the Sanusi were among them. Either way, they
t a a heavy price.
weliniielf Ighedive Ismail, American Confederate Civil War soldier Alexander Mason was
sent to siwa to survey the land and make a map of the oasis. This may well be the_f1rst
known map of Siwa
and it is now in the archives of the Geographical Society in Cairo.
In 1896, the tribute assessed by Muhammad Ali was still in effect, but it had not been
paid for three years.
Sheikh Hassuna Mansur fortified a fortress and refused to pay the
annual tribute. Mustapha Mahr, governor of Behera Province, ca1;1e to Siwa wrthdiifty
men. Hassuna was besieged.
When nothing seemed to be resolve , Hassuna as e Qt e Sanusi to intervene. They told him to surrender and pay his taxes.
He did, only to die a few months later as a result of a dispute over some goats that led to another all-out Eastem and Westem war.
The Widow’s War began in 1898.
Following the death of the umda (mayor) of Siwa,
his young wife wished to marry again, this time a Westemer, but her stepson had found a
different suitor. She fled to Uthman Habun, a Sanusi representative. Up started the war
drums. The woman returned to her stepson. Next day she disappeared again. She went to
the Westemer whom she wanted to marry. Her stepson then forced her to marry h1S
Everyone in Siwa,
according to Belgrave’s view of the Siwan_Manuscr1pt, was
upset and two men were killed. Up started the war drums again. The lines were drawn.
By giristake alpnglall boy was ihot by thei(Easte;nersland a truce was called. The Eastern-
ers en attac e a spring. Be grave pic s up Then the entire Westem force, led by their chief, Uthman Habun, on his great white War-horse, the only one in Siwa, surged out of the town, through the narrow gateS,
firing and shrieking,
waving swords and spears, followed by their women throwing
stones. Every able-bodied man and woman joined in the battle beneath the walls. , . .
‘The Habun’ found himself in danger of being captured …. Habun’s mother, seeing
her son in danger, collected a dozen women of his house and managed to get near him.
He left his horse and slipped into the gardens where he joined the women. They
dressed him as a girl, and with them he escaped to the tomb of Sidi Suliman. Habun
sent to the Sanusi at Jugbub and they created the peace. This pattern of sporadic, but
regular, violence continued until the Sanusi created order.
SIWA OASIS history
Siwa became a major port of call for the Sanusi caravans. Situated as it was at the
desert door to Egypt, Siwa was extremely important to the slave caravans from Kufra,
The Siwans participated in this trade and many of the slaves remained in Siwa either as
chattels of the Sanusi, maintaining their holdings in the oasis, or as slaves of various
Many of their descendants still live in Siwa Twentieth Century siwa .
The first Egyptian ruler to visit Siwa in modem times was Abbas II. He disguised his Aus-
trian wife as an Egyptian officer and made a state visit in February 1904, and again in
He traveled in the Hnest style, his vanguard alone consisting of sixty-two camels.
The main entourage had 228 camels and twenty-two horses, while Abbas rode in a car-
Water was carried from Cairo in 120 iron chests. Plenty of live sheep and fowl
scurried along in the procession and the guests dined at tables laid with fresh linen table-
cloths and sterling cutlery.
It took seven days to trek from Mersa Matruh along the Sultan’s Road.
When Abbas entered Siwa,
unlike the inhospitable welcomes of the past, all the inhabitants came out to meet him waving palm branches. There were banners fluttering and musicians playing as the Siwans welcomed the ruler of Egypt. In honor of his arrival, the khedive laid the foundation for a mosque. Siwa had at last been assimilated.
C. Dalrymple Belgrave was appointed district officer of Siwa by the Frontier District
Administration Camel Corps for 1920-21.
As we have seen, he left a vivid interpretation of the oasis in his book siwa The Oasis of Jupiter Ammon.
The Camel Corps had been in existence for some time and had established their barracks and office half a mile south of Shali on two isolated rocks.
American anthropologist Walter Cline did an indepth anthropological study of Siwa and its inhabitants in 1926-27 and again in 1928-29.
His research and observations, although he claimed the Siwans were hostile, are among the
best we have.
In 1929, Captain Brezzi, an Italian, crossed the desert from Kufra to arrive at Siwa. In
1931, the Bible-thumping Scottish traveler and author of Camels through Libya, Dugald
Campbell, visited British-controlled Siwa. He found Egyptian officials administrating the
Frontier District Administration. His camels, as was the custom, were put in quarantine
and he set himself up quite comfortably in the very cave previously occupied by the
Grand Sanusi at Qasr Hassuna. It was during this era that Ahmed Fakhry came to Siwa.
In 1921, American Robert H. Forbes, a desert agriculturalist, came to Siwa to study its
He found he had nothing to off`er the oasis, as it was already mak-
ing maximum use of the salty land. Forbes photographed the oasis and its people.
World Wars The Siwans
did not fare well during the two world wars. They were caught between the Italians, who had colonized Libya, the Sanusi, to whom they were mostly sympathetic, and the British, who by this time had colonized Egypt.
The Sanusi entered World War I on the side of the Turks, to whom they owed allegiance. After several attempts, they occupied Siwa on April 1, 1916. They entered Farafra and Bahariya in February of the same year, and Dakhla and Kharga shortly after.
was abandoned after only a few days, and Dakhla was occupied until October 16, when the British dropped a bomb on the outskirts of Mut that sent the Sanusi running. The Sanusi held Siwa until it fell to the British on February 5, 1917. During all this, the Siwans adopted a new tactic.
No longer able to fend off intruders successfully, they moved into the tombs of Gebel al-Mawta, welcoming whichever invader came to their town. Thus they survived.
In The Desert Campaigns, Massey recounted how the British set off from MerS21
Matruh in grand style on February 1, 1917, with: “Rolls Royce armoured cars, Talbot
wagons, Ford Light patrol and supply cars, a Daimler lorry carrying a Krupp gun made
in 1871, and captured from the enemy in 1916, and over a score of motor lorries.” They
SIWA OASIS –
paused 144 km (90 miles) from the escarpment and General Hodgson sent out a recon-
naissance to find Qirba, “a series of low hills where the enemy was hiding.” Here the first
battle took place. At noon the Sanusi attempted a charge, but the machine guns and heavy
motorized vehicles rendered their two ten-pounders, two machine guns, and eight hun-
dred guns useless. All night long, sniper shots rang out.
Just before sunrise the Sanusi fired two shells, threw their ammunition on a fire, and retreated. The Sanusi lost two hundred men. Five hundred more were at Siwa oasis history .
At 9 a.m. on February 5, the British entered Siwa and were received at the steps of the
Massey recounted that when the British cars came dashing into siwa , the Siwans were happy to see them and offered sheep in gratitude for their throwing out the Sanusi.
asked that the road up a pass be repaired as the Sanusi had blown it up to keep the enemy out and now the Siwans were being kept in.
Massey found Siwa oasis history an unpleasant place and the narrow passages of Shali “slimy and slippery with accumulated filth.” The whole mess was finished by February 8 when, back in Sollum, the British
began to plan the rescue of the prisoners of the Tara.
During the British occupation of Egypt, Siwa became a tourist attraction. Unlike the
travelers of the past, who made the joumey under peril, the colonialists booked trips via
the Libyan Oases Association in Alexandria,
owned and operated by Captain Hillier, for-merly of the Frontier District Administration. Clients had a choice of a nine-day tour by rail and coach via Mersa Matruh or a month-long camel safari via Wadi Natrun and Qattara Depression.
Once in Siwa, they enjoyed the comforts of the Prince Farouk Hotel, also owned by Hillier. It was a small, two-story hotel situated on a spur of Gebel al-Mawta, made of whitewashed mud brick, with red and black Bedouin rugs. Maximum occupancy was twelve guests.
It also had a dining room, lounge, and veranda. Today, part of it is a small handicrafts shop.
During World War II,
was again an important theater of war. It was occupied by Allied troops, mainly British, Australians, and New Zealanders, and closed to visitors.
The Italians had introduced tank and air warfare to the desert in their successful attempt
to colonize Libya.
During World War II
they bombed Siwa, killing a hundred people and a donkey.
Then they occupied the oasis, where they remained for four months.
During that time the Germans were also in Siwa, and Field Marshal Rommel visited Siwa and
had tea in the gardens with several of the sheikhs.
presented the sheikhs with tea and sugar, items which were always scarce in the Western Desert, while his hosts gave him dates and the heart of a palm tree.
At one point Siwa had its own plane, which fiew twice weekly to Mersa Matruh.
Today In the latter part of the twentieth century, access to Siwa oasis hitory was restricted for nearly twenty years and no travelers were permitted to visit.
Then in the 1980s restrictions were lifted and travel, although still hazardous, began anew. The Siwans opened their oasis to tourism, with restaurants, craft shops, and desert tours. Strangers are at last welcome.
Along with the visitors has come change. Blending the old with the new is a challenge for the Siwans, as it is a challenge throughout the oases.
But the Siwans are accustomed to change and have proved to handle it well. So far they are accomplishing their mission.
The new structures in Siwa oasis history
are following the concepts of the traditional mud village.
They are only one or two stories tall. Their facades blend in with the environment. Visi-
t0rs, too, must take responsibility for their actions while in Siwa and other oasis
00Inmunities. Be respectful. Be modest. Leave your beer and hard liquor at home. Try to
follow the desert attitude. You just might like it.
111 addition to tourists, NGOs, aid programs, and naturalists have arrived in Siwa oasis hitory. Each #HS money to spend and the desire to help the oasis. This is a double-edged sword. What
IS help to a foreigner and what is help to a Siwan (or a Bahariyan, a Farafrian, a Fayoumi)