Siwa, the most inaccessible of all Egypt's oasis until very recently, is also one of the most fascinating, lying some 60 feet below sea level. On the edge of the Great Sand Sea, its rich history includes a visit from Alexander the Great to consult the Oracle of Amun in 331 BC. Archaeologists, such as Liana Souvaltsis and implied that the great military leader was buried here, but no real evidence has come from this. The King of Persia lead a 50,000 man army to the area to destroy the oracle, but the entire army was lost in the desert.
Olive oil is still made in the area by crushing the olives from the 70,000 olive trees in the area with stones. The dates are gathered by zaggala (stick bearers), who must remain celibate until the age of forty, and the area boasts some 300,000 date trees. It is located on the old date caravan route, yet until recently, it received few other visitors and retained much of its heritage. In fact, until the battles which took place around the oasis in World War II, it was hardly governed by Egypt, and remained mostly a Berber (Zenatiya) community for the prior thirteen centuries. Siwans continue to have their own culture and customs and they speak a Berber language, called Siwi, rather than Arabic. Interestingly, each October there is a three-day festival during which Siwans celebrate the harvesting season for olives and dates.
The area is also famous for its springs, of which there are approximately 1,000. The water is sweet, and is said to have medical properties.
Many women still wear traditional costumes and silver jewelry like those displayed in The Traditional Siwan House museum in the town center. In fact, the area is also well known for its crafts, particularly woven cloth.