Arts & Entertainment

Berber fortress in Egyptian desert oasis brought back to life

Carles Grau Sivera

Siwa, Egypt, Nov 6 (efe-epa).- Life has returned to the fortress of Shali, a walled city made of mud located in the Egyptian oasis of Siwa which was inhabited by Berber tribes until the 19th century, and which was destroyed a century ago.

In a remote part of Egypt’s western desert, a mere 50 kilometers from the border with Libya, the fortress was built about a thousand years ago from a mixture of salt and mud called ‘kershef’, a material used by the locals to insulate their homes from the extreme temperatures of the desert.

But the material could not withstand the heavy rains that in 1926 swept through the fortification much like a wave washing away a sand castle, leaving it in ruins and condemning the icon of ancient Siwa to oblivion.


Built on a hill around 1200 A.D. by Berber tribes, the fortress AT Shali had already been progressively abandoned in the 19th after when the Egyptian State took control of the area and integrated it into the country.

The modernization brought by the conquest encouraged the few hundred Berber families to build their new homes outside the walls, but they reused the materials of the old Shali, which severely weakened the fortification.

“The biggest challenge we faced was to get the original plans for the city, but we found drawings and photographs from a century ago that show what the streets of the fortress looked like,” Ramy Ezmy, the architect responsible for the restoration, tells Efe.


Now, Shali has been restored to its original mud beehive form, with narrow alleys and three square meter rooms, date stores, small squares for tribal meetings and even a deep well that connects to one of the many aquifers that irrigate the oasis.

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