Siwa Oasis (Arabic: واحة سيوة Wāḥat Sīwah, Siwi: Isiwan) is located nearly 50km east of the Libyann border, and 560 km from Cairo. About 80 km in length and 20 km wide, Siwa Oasis has always been one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements and has a unique culture and many traditions and crafts unlike those found elsewhere in Egypt. The 30,000 inhabitants are mostly ethnic Berbers who speak a distinct language.
Siwa was best known for its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Amun, the ruins of which gave the oasis its ancient name Ammonium. The name Siwa, first attested in the 15th century (earlier Arab geographers termed it Santariyyah), is of uncertain origin. It has been linked to a Berber tribal name swh attested further west in the early Islamic period, while Ilahiane, following Chafik, links it to the Tashelhiyt Berber word asiwan, a type of prey bird, and hence to Amon-Ra, one of whose symbols was the falcon.
The cultivation of dates and olives is the core industry. Siwa is known for the many springs which provide the water for agriculture, and some of which provide swimming and scenic pleasure for tourists. Most famous of the springs is Cleopatra, which has a deep, clean pool with smooth waters and a comfortable swimming temperature in the mid 20s. Ringed by palm gardens, it is easily reached from the centre of town by a 10 minute car drive, 15 minute bike ride or donkey cart trip, or a 30 minute walk, down a road bounded by palm gardens which give the visitor an insight to Siwan agriculture.