Siwans once inhabited a fortified settlement at Aghurmi, just east of Siwa town, but by the 13th century AD their numbers had been reduced to just seven families as a result of bloody feuding and incessant attacks by desert raiders. A decision was made to build and relocate to a new stronghold they called Shali ("The Town" in Siwi language), and the original 40 menfolk who moved here are still honored to this day.
Shali was constructed out of karshif (salt-impregnated
mud) in the saddle of a limestone knoll. It was a medieval walled town with a labyrinth of narrow alleys and three gated entrances that could easily be defended. As Shali's population grew, the Siwans added extra stories to their homes rather than live outside its protective walls.
The walls proved no match for cannons, and the fiercely independent Siwans quickly capitulated to an artillery force dispatched by Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali in 1819. The final blow came in 1926, when a rare torrential downpour dissolved Shali's walls and houses, forcing most of the town's inhabitants to relocate to the plain below.
Paths from Siwa's main square lead up to the peak of the limestone outcrop, from where there are fantastic views over the modern town, palm groves, and a pair of glittering salt lakes. You can also peer down into the ruins, as well as the remaining occupied houses on its fringe. Don't miss Shali's 800-year-old mosque, whose undulating karshif facade still bears the handprints of its original builders.