Old Mosque of Shali Fortress
2010 World Monuments Watch
Surveying the endless expanse of deserts of northeastern Egypt, the Old Mosque of Shali Fortress, completed in 1203, is perched peacefully atop a small hill in Siwa Oasis, a remote village 185 miles (300 kilometers) south of the Mediterranean Sea. The location was chosen for its elevated position in case of attack from nomadic raiders. The old mosque survives today as the oldest monument built in Shali as well as the oldest mosque in the world constructed using karshif, a unique earthen material produced naturally through the calcification of earth mixed with salt from the soil. The rough, undulating texture of the façade still bears the handprints of the original builders As Shali has evolved, the mosque has remained a perpetual and unremitting symbol of the history and community of Siwa Oasis. Devastating floods in the early and late 20th century, bombings in World War II, and modern developments in the town beginning in the 1980s have destroyed many ancient structures. Concrete has replaced the vernacular karshif building materials, threatening the historic and architectural integrity of Siwa Oasis. Despite its small size and state of dilapidation, the mosque remains an important symbol of the community and a place of religious rituals and celebration. Preservation of the site will help to engage the town in the karshif tradition and conserve and protect a vital icon of the region.