Siwa Oasis
Siwa Oasis exists because it is below sea level. More particularly, the hole in the ground in which the large freshwater oasis sits, is below the water table that exists under all the Sahara desert. Siwa Oasis was always and outpost of empire for the ancient Egyptian kingdom. Having conquered the main Nile valley in 522 BC, the first of the Persian pharoahs, Cambysses, sent an army of 50,000 to Siwa to bring it under his control. Herodotus reports that a sandstorm came up and buried the army to a man, never to be found again. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great came to the oracle of Amon at Siwa and was told that he would conquer the known world. Alexander duly obliged, which was no doubt good for business in the highly competitive business of oracle pronouncements. But it was only a short time later that Siwa slid into obscurity, from which it was only rescued in the 20th century when good roads connected the town to the outer world.

Today, Siwa does brisk business bringing tourists in by the busload and exporting plump, sweet dates by the lorry load. But it still a small town with frontier quality about it.

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On entering the town, the most remarkable site is the old adobe (mudbrick) town around which the modern town is built. Rain and neglect have reduced what was an impressive fortified stronghold as late as the start of the 20th century, into a decaying warran of tunnels and ancient small houses, which are now largely unoccupied. It is quite possible to walk around the old town, but it is wise to keep to the footpaths as more than one tourist has disappeared through a decaying roof into a house one (or more) stories below!
Siwa Oracle of Amon
The remains of the oracle of Amon building, which Alexander the Great would have seen in the forth century BC, still sits on top of a precipitous rocky outcrop. Over the intervening centuries, it has served other purposes and obviously been lived in as a domestic house. Doors and windows were chopped into the walls as required. But what is left is still impressive for the quality of the stonework.
Siwa Oracle
Date palms at Siwa
The new tourist building, sited at the other end of the hilltop on which the oracle building sits, rather spoils the view with its tall chimney. None-the-less, the endless carpet of date palm trees beyond show the extent of the Siwa date industry.
Abdu's restaurant is the best in town. The dining room is a simple roof of palm leaves, supported by some date tree poles and completely open to the street on the front. At the back, a more subtantial building contains the kitchen, which appears to be lit by a single low wattage light bulb. Contrary to such first impressions, the food here is simply stunning.

Best avoid having to use the toilet though....

Abdu's features several times in "War Gold", though the name is slightly changed to Abdul's in the book. The episode in the book where a young English girl in loud trousers and a rakish cap sits by the door to the kitchen was based on a real incident! Just as in the book, she was waiting for her mother to come back from a trip into the desert in a battered yellow Land Cruiser. I wondered what a young English girl was doing in Siwa. As in the book, she chatted away to the waiters in Arabic and was obviously something of a pet. But the possibilities of this unusual encounter were such that I thought I would try to work them into "War Gold". In the end, it became a central pivot of the book.

Siwa at night
Siwa is an interesting little town and it is well worth spending a day here looking around and enjoying the surprises that one finds at every corner.

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