1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Siwa

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25822061911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — SiwaFrank Richardson Cana

SIWA, an oasis in the Libyan Desert, politically part of Egypt. It is also known as the oasis of Amnion or Jupiter Ammon; its ancient Egyptian name was Sekhet-am, “Palm-land.” The oasis lies about 350 m. W.S.W. of Cairo, its chief town, also called Siwa, being situated in 29° 12′ N., 25° 30′ E. The oasis is some 6 m. long by 4 to 5 wide. Ten miles north-east is the small oasis of Zetun, and westward of Siwa extends for some 50 m. a chain of little oases. The population of Siwa proper (1907 census) was 3884. The inhabitants are of Libyan (Berber) stock and have a language of their own, but also speak Arabic. The oasis is extremely fertile and contains many thousands of date palms. The town of Siwa is built on two rocks and resembles a fortress. The houses are frequently built on arches spanning the streets, which are narrow and irregular.

The oasis is famous as containing the oracle temple of Ammon, which was already famous in the time of Herodotus, and was consulted by Alexander the Great. The remains of the temple are in the walled village of Aghormi, 2 m. E. of the town of Siwa. It is a small building, with inscriptions dating from the 4th century B.C. The oracle fell into disrepute during the Roman occupation of Egypt, and was reported dumb by Pausanias, c. A.D. 160. Siwa was afterwards used as a place of banishment for criminals and political offenders. After the Mahommedan conquest of Egypt Siwa became independent and so remained until conquered by Mehemet Ali in 1820. It is now governed by its own sheikhs under the supervision of an Egyptian mamur responsible to the mudir of Behera.

Siwa contains many relics of antiquity besides the ruins of the temple of Ammon. Near that temple are the scanty remains of another temple of the same century, Umm Beda, with reliefs depicting the prince of the oasis making offerings to Ammon, “lord of oracles.” At Jebel Muta, 1 m. N.E. of Siwa, are tombs of Ptolemaic and Roman date; 10 m. E. of Aghormi is a well-preserved chapel, with Roman graves; at Kasr Rumi is a Doric temple of the Roman period.

The oasis lies close to the Tripolitan frontier and is largely dominated by the sect of the Senussi (q.v.), whose headquarters were formerly at Jarabub, 80 m. to the north-west. The Senussi successfully prevented various explorers penetrating westward beyond Siwa. The first European to reach Siwa since Roman time was W. G. Browne, who visited the oasis in 1792. He was followed in 1798 by F. Hornemann. Both these travellers started from Cairo; in 1820 General H. Minutoli gained the oasis from the Gulf of Solum. In 1869 Gerhard Rohlfs reached Siwa via Tripoli, and subsequently the ruins were examined by Professor G. Steindorff. After the occupation of Egypt by the British steps were taken to enforce the authority of the government in Siwa, where order proved difficult to maintain. There were serious disturbances in 1909, and as a result in 1910 a telegraph line was built across the desert from Alexandria to the oasis.

See G. Steindorff, Durch die Libysche Wüste zur Amonsoase (Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1904) ; A. Silva White, From Sphinx to Oracle (London n.d., 1898); Murray's Handbook for Egypt (11th ed., London, 1907); T. B. Hohler, Report on the Oasis of Siva (Cairo, 1900); also the works of the earlier travellers named.  (F. R. C.)