It would be hard to miss the jagged ruins of Shali Fortress, the magnificent relic at the center of Siwa’s largest town. According to ancient Siwan scriptures, 40 Siwans built the fortress in 1203 A.D. to protect the community against raiding Bedouin tribes. They used kershef, a mixture of mud, sand and sun-dried salt harvested from the oasis’s salt lakes, combined with palm trunks as ceilings.
Atop a limestone hill overlooking the oasis, the old city walls housed a thriving village with streets and a well large enough to sustain its 700 inhabitants. In the early 19th century, encouraged by the security that Egyptian viceroy Mohamed Ali Pasha had forcefully bestowed on the region, residents of old Shali began moving outside the old city walls. In 1926 unusually heavy rains destroyed much of the ancient citadel, forcing out its remaining residents. Today, the fortresses’ remains stand as a monument to Siwan ingenuity and offer visitors a spectacular view from the upper levels of the old city.