Siwa has long been Egypt's best source for traditional jewelry. Worn by local women on festive occasions, the simple silver designs have been attracting increasingly international attention. The oasis is also the source of beautiful, simple clay pots and tableware in unusual shapes, locally woven rugs, and embroidery. Unfortunately, much of the original household production has been bought up by unscrupulous collectors, and though an effort is now being made to keep these precious cultural artifacts in Siwa for the museum, you may still find them for sale. You can play a direct part in preserving a unique and special culture by leaving these in Siwa and taking away only newly produced pieces, which are just as genuine and just as beautiful.
Midan el Souk, the main and only square in Siwa, is the place to go for shopping. The square is rung with small stores offering local weaving and embroidery and simple jewelry. Browse and haggle are the rules.
Next to the Al Bab Inshal, which you can see at one end of the square, is the Bab Inshal Concept Store, open daily 8am to 5pm, offering a range of unexpected-but-delicious local food products. A jar of caramelized Siwa walnuts or a bottle of local orange salad dressing makes a good local gift.
The styles and patterns of Siwan jewelry owe more to the Berber heritage of the Siwan people than anything that you'll find in the far-off Nile Valley. Though beautiful and decorative, jewelry also served a number of social roles. Jewelry, in the days of bartering and in the absence of any kind of savings banks, served as a family's capital investment scheme, and a large proportion of savings could be literally hung around the necks of daughters and wives. Original work is scarce these days, but modern, locally made jewelry is just as nice, and buying it instead of the antiques ensures the dwindling heritage of Siwa stays where it belongs -- in the hands of Siwans.
Visiting the stores and stalls of Siwa, you're sure to find a large selection of aswira, or bracelets. The narrow bands have a bird motif, the design that's most closely associated with the area and are usually worn in pairs by the women of the oasis. The elaborate headdresses of Siwa are also highly characteristic of the area. If you're lucky, you may spot a woman with an ornate headband across her forehead. This is a lugaya and is originally a Libyan style of ornament. The large, and quite heavy, crescent-shaped earrings that are hung with chains and bells are called tilakin, and if they look a bit much for your earlobes, don't worry: They are, in fact, hung from a strap that fits across the head.
The most interesting piece of jewelry in Siwa is a pair of pieces that are usually worn together as a necklace by single women of marriageable age. The first piece is a hoop of silver, called aghrou, worn around the neck like the chain of a necklace. Tapered, it has a loop at the thicker end that's secured by nine windings of wire. The thinner end of the hoop has a hook, which fits into the loop and secures it around the woman's neck. It's said that the hook and loop represent the male and female reproductive organs, and the nine windings of the wire refer to the 9 months of pregnancy. A medallion, decorated with a variety of motifs, is hung from the aghrou. When the woman wearing the aghrou gets engaged, part of her marriage ceremony involves handing this piece of jewelry to the next woman in her family to be married.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.