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Its fame lies primarily in its ancient role as the home to an oracle of Ammon, the ruins of which are a popular tourist attraction which gave the oasis its ancient name Ammonium. To the west the Jaghbub oasis lies in a similar depression and to the east the large Qattara Depression also lies below sea level.

The Ancient Egyptian name of the oasis was Sekht-am meaning palm land. Its modern name Siwa, first appeared in the 15th century. Basset Although the oasis is known to have been settled since at least the 10th millennium BC, the earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th Dynasty, when a necropolis was established.

In the 12th century Al-Idrisi mentions it as being inhabited mainly by Berbers, with an Arab minority, while a century before Al-Bakri stated that only Berbers lived there.In the Spring of 1893, German explorer and photographer, Hermann Burchardt, took photographs of the architecture of the town of Siwa, now stored at the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.The Siwans are a Berber people, so demographically and culturally they were more closely related to nearby Libya, which has a large Berber population, than to Egypt, which has a negligible Berber population.Siwa was also the site of some fighting during World War I and World War II.The British Army's Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was based here, but Rommel's Afrika Korps also took possession three times.

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The traditional culture of Siwa shows many features unusual in Egypt, some reflecting its longstanding links with the Maghreb and the fact that the inhabitants are of Berber origin.

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