Monday, April 20, 2009

The Oracle of Siwa

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

The Temple of the Oracle of Amun at Siwa has attracted many a visitor over the history of ancient civilizations, the most prominent being Alexander the Great. It is said that he reached the temple by following birds across the desert. Alexander the Great came in 331 BC to consult the Oracle of Amun in order to seek confirmation that he was the son of the gods (Zeus and Amun) and consequently the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt and of course of the other lands he conquered. He continued to correspond with the Oracle of Amun until his death through messengers when he needed answers to important questions.

In the ancient world, people were more than superstitious, so manifestations of the gods or Oracles were greatly revered. They were regularly consulted before important decisions as they were able to see into the future. Oracles existed in Egypt well before the Temple of the Oracle at Siwa, which was built during the 26th Dynasty. The Oracle of Siwa was reputed to have existed well before the temple and continued to flourish well into the Greek and Roman periods.

The area is known to have been inhabited since the 10th millennium BC, but it was during the 26th Dynasty that it gained fame when a necropolis was established, and Siwa at the time was given the name Sekht-am or Palm Land.

Greeks that settled at Cyrene (in modern day Libya) made contact with the oasis at the time and Romans later used it as a place of banishment. The first European to visit the temple was the British William George Browne in 1792, and in 1819 the oasis was officially added by Muhammad Ali Pasha (Egypt’s ruler at the time) to modern Egypt. Siwa was the site of some fighting during World War I and World War II.

In fact, until the battles which took place around the oasis in World War II, it was hardly governed by Egypt, and for the previous thirteen centuries it remained mostly a Berber (Zenatiya) community. Siwans continue to have their own culture and customs and they speak a Berber language, called Siwi, rather than Arabic. Because of their geographical isolation the people have remained relatively unchanged. Women still wear traditional costumes and silver jewelers and Siwa remains one of the best places to buy traditional local handicrafts. Interestingly, each October there is a three-day festival during which Siwans must settle all of their past year's disputes.
The Siwa Oasis lying 60 feet below sea level and is located between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert, 560 km from Cairo and 50 km east of the Libyan border. It is one of Egypt’s isolated settlements, inhabited by 23,000 people descendants from the ethnic Berbers of North Africa.
There are approximately 1,000 sweet water springs that are know to have medical properties. But the most striking feature of the Siwan landscape is the presence of several salt lakes, which diminish in size during the summer; this sets it apart from any other oases of Egypt.
Besides its old ruin Temple of Amun, springs and salt lakes, other sites of interest include Cleopatra’s Bath, the old town of Shali, Gebel Dakrur and Gabal El-Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead). In 2007 there was the discovery of what may be the world’s oldest human footprint, dating back 3 million years. Although the revelations of the oracle which has attracted so many, fell into disrepute under the Roman occupation of Egypt, Siwa still lures people who seek peace, beauty and serenity.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem