Fortress of Shali

Top choice Fortress

in Siwa Oasis

Central Siwa is dominated by the spectacular organic shapes of the remains of this 13th-century mud-brick fortress. Built from kershef (chunks of salt from the lake just outside town, mixed with rock and plastered in local clay), the labyrinth of huddled buildings was originally four or five storeys high and housed hundreds of people. A path leads over the slumping remnants, past the Old Mosque with its chimney-shaped minaret, to the top for panoramic views.

For centuries, few outsiders were admitted inside the fortress – and even fewer came back out to tell the tale. But three days of rain in 1926 caused more damage than any invader had managed and, over the last decades, inhabitants moved to newer and more comfortable houses with running water and electricity. Now only a few buildings around the edges are occupied or used for storage. A pathway from the central square leads to the top for great views over the oasis. Several foreigners and Egyptians are doing up houses in the old town; some are available for overnight stays.