Traditional crafts still flourish in Siwa, though some designs and materials are new. Authentic wedding dresses embellished with antique coins, shells or beads, and black robes with orange or red piping, have narrower braiding than the versions made for the tourist market. Women also weave carpets and all sorts of baskets made from palm-fronds. The largest is the tghara, used for storing bread; smaller kinds include the red and green silk-tasselled nedibash or platters like the tarkamt, used for serving sweets. They also mould pottery and fire it at home in bread-ovens, creating robust cooking and storage pots, delicate oil lamps and a kind of baptismal crucible called the shamadan en sebaa. Popular buys include the adjra, used for washing hands, and timjamait, or incense burners.

Unlike the gold-loving Egyptians, Siwans have traditionally preferred silver jewellery, which served as bullion for a people mistrustful of banks and paper money. The designs are uniquely Siwan, influenced by Berber rather than Egyptian heritage. Local silversmiths once produced most of it, but in modern times it has largely come from Khan el-Khalili. Broad silver bracelets and oval rings wrought with geometric designs are the most popular items with visitors, while Al-Salhat, with its six pendants hung from silver and coral beads, is the easiest type of necklace to identify. You’ll also recognize the tiyalaqan, a mass of chains tipped with bells, suspended from huge crescents; and the qasas, an ornament for the head consisting of silver hoops and bells suspended from matching chunks of bullion.

Margaret May Vale’s Sand and Silver (sold at the tourist office) is the definitive guide to Siwan handicrafts.

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