On Sunday we saw the Siwa sights.
We were up early with the Sahara sun.
We ate breakfast in camp, then drove back over the dunes to Siwa. There was a sandstorm beginning to blow in from Libya which made us all glad we weren’t doing the desert part of our tour today.
We returned to the hotel for a short rest, then struck out again to see what the city had to offer. You can feel the specialness of the oasis town, so different from Cairo. Some in our group likened it to the Wild West, with its dusty roads, horses and donkey carts, and bustling main street.
It is an ancient place – inhabited since mesolithic times – and its isolation has produced a unique culture among the Berber who live there now. I won’t get into all the history here but the Wikipedia article makes a good introduction if you’re interested.
First stop was the Alexander Temple at Aghumi Village. The original pharaonic temple was dedicated to the god Amon. It gets its more modern name from the time that Alexander the Great went there to consult the oracle.
From there we walked to the ruins of the Amun Ra temple at Um Ubeyda.
Then on to the Cleopatra Spring. This swimming pool has been in use since before Herodotus, who wrote about it in the 5th C BCE. It was also mentioned by Aristotle, Ovid, and St. Augustine. In those days it was called Spring of the Sun, or Well of Jupiter. The Cleopatra name is a more recent marketing ploy, but no matter, it’s the same place. We didn’t join the swimmers there but we did call in at a rooftop cafe for a hot mint tea followed by a very refreshing cold mint lemonade.
Next stop was the Mountain of the Dead, a cemetery for the pharaonic Siwans, then later for the Greeks and Romans. One tomb had lovely painted walls and ceilings similar to those in the Valley of the Kings but alas, no photos allowed inside.
Back into town for lunch at Abdu, then a rest at the hotel. In the late afternoon we got back on our little bus and went to see the neighborhood of the ancient walled city. We climbed up the Fortress of Shali – from the top we had a good view of the original mud-brick town.
Finally we drove to the edge of the big lake, where we enjoyed our third mint tea of the day while watching the sun set. The sand storm clouded the sky and the breeze kept the birds away from the water, but it was pretty nonetheless.
One last stop in town for shopping. Siwa is famous for its dates and olives. We stocked up on both, and some excellent olive oil too.
Back to the hotel for dinner, then off to bed because we had to be up early for the long drive back to Cairo.
Unfortunately the drive was made even longer by the pokey police escort we were required to follow for most of the way. We stopped at a gas station mini market for ice cream and what do you know, there was a brigadier general (who must have been alerted to our route) welcoming us to Egypt. He handed out Egyptian flags and artificial roses in honor of the national holiday, then took a picture with us. I took one too.