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A local manuscript mentions only seven families totaling 40 men living at the oasis in 1203.

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.

The oasis makes a brief appearance as a base of the LRDG in the 1958 war film Ice Cold in Alex.

The ancient fortress of Siwa, known as the Shali Ghadi ("Shali" being the name of the town, and "Ghadi" meaning remote), was built on natural rock (an inselberg) and made of kershif (salt and mud-brick) it was abandoned for similar unreinforced construction housing on the plain surrounding it, and in some cases those in turn have been replaced by more modern cinder block and sheet metal roof buildings.

Until a tarmac road was built to the Mediterranean coast in the 1980s Siwa’s only links with the outside world were by arduous camel tracks through the desert.During the Ptolemaic period of Egypt its ancient Egyptian name was sḫ.t-ỉm3w, "Field of Trees".Greek settlers at Cyrene made contact with the oasis around the same time (7th century BC), and the oracle temple of Amun (Greek: Zeus Ammon), who, Herodotus was told, took the image here of a ram.Many of the unreinforced kershif buildings bordering the streets of the Shali are also split by large cracks, or they are partially collapsed.Other local historic sites of interest include: the remains of the oracle temple; the Gebel al Mawta (the Mountain of the Dead), a Roman-era necropolis featuring dozens of rock-cut tombs; and "Cleopatra's Bath", an antique natural spring.

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