Siwa Oasis, located about 70 kilometers east of the Libyan border, has been inhabited since 10,000 BC but was re-created just a few years ago by Environmental Quality International, an environmental consulting company. EQI’s president, Mounir Neamtalla, first visited in 1996 and was so inspired by the beauty and spirituality of this remote corner of Egypt he expanded EQI’s advisory services to include direct investments in sustainable development – and so Siwa was reborn.
Steeped in history, it is renowned for being the site of the Oracle of Amon, whom Alexander the Great consulted. Visiting Siwa today you will find it very much the same as Alexander did, featuring majestic rock formations, luxuriant groves and dazzling salt lakes throughout the oasis.
The Siwa Sustainable Development Initiative includes three different accommodations, ranging in price from $45 to $330 per night. The most luxurious, Adrère Amellal, is 20 minutes outside of Siwa and has 40 en-suite rooms overlooking Lake Siwa and is nestled at the foot of the White Mountain cliffs. Built with indigenous material using traditional Siwan building techniques, the lodge has a minimal impact on the environment. There is no electricity, rooms are lit with beeswax candles. the stars light up the nights, and the swimming pool is fed by local springs.
Shali Lodge, set in the middle of a lush palm grove in the heart of Siwa, is built of rock salt in the traditional architectural style. It has 20 charming suites that are simply but luxuriously furnished, all overlooking an internal courtyard.
Albabenshal is located, quite spectacularly, outside the jagged ruins of Old Shali, a 13th-century citadel in the center of Siwa. A restoration of what were once rundown Siwan dwellings, Albabenshal has 13 rooms on three levels, linked through a system of alleyways and terraces overlooking the town center.
The Siwa Sustainable Development Initiative has brought significant benefits to the local community, while protecting Siwa’s delicate ecology and revitalizing its unique cultural heritage. It has renewed Siwans’ pride in their cultural heritage, creating a wave of building in the Siwan traditional architectural style and has resulted in a decree by the governor of Matruh that all new constructions be built in the traditional style.
Most importantly, the initiative has created environmentally and culturally sustainable employment and income-generating opportunities that draw on local materials and expertise. At least 600 Siwans are employed in areas such as the supply of raw materials, production of furniture and handicrafts, transport of goods and workers, and as tour operators.
In partnership with the International Finance Corporation, EQI is working to develop Siwa into a center of excellence for the production of organically grown produce and agro-culinary products, while improving the standard of living of Siwan farmers. The project, which hopes to benefit up to 450 farmers and 50 off-farm workers, aims to add value to Siwan agricultural produce by promoting the adoption of organic farming and farm management systems that are compatible with international certifications. There are crop-prefinancing and cattle-financing schemes, a renewable energy initiative, and a packaging warehouse.
In August 2001, EQI launched a cottage industry aimed at revitalizing Siwa’s traditional handicrafts and promoting a culture of artisanship among women in the oasis. An initial grant from the British embassy went towards upgrading the embroidery skills of 50 Siwan women to ensure workmanship of the highest standard. The project allows women to work from home or in an all-women setting, in keeping with Siwan tradition. Within a year, the number of women participating in the project had reached 300. Siwa Creations has worked with several haute couture companies in Italy, including Ermanno Scervino and Nia Ferrante.
(Hotel View and Creations photos by Khaled Nagy.)