Shamofs Art Camp – Siwa Oasis
In the middle of the Sahara Desert (only 50 kilometers from the Libyan border), Siwa Oasis is a dreamy destination far from any other place your mind could think of. The oasis is surrounded by large palm groves, no less than 250 thermal springs (very good for the skin), and salt lakes with crystal-clear water and an incredible white salt floor. The settlement itself features mud-brick traditional architecture, ancient ruins linked to Alexander the Great as well as rock-cut tombs with colorful paintings. Siwa is the place where you can still find century-long customs like baking flatbread (shami) or making dates brandy (araki). Last but not least, Siwa is the place where locals meet in the main square every evening.
A straight road cuts through the Sahara Desert and connects the Egyptian resort of Marsa Matruh (on the Mediterranean Coast) with Siwa Oasis, situated 300 kilometers away. The road has only one destination – Siwa, and when it reaches the oasis, you can truly say it’s the end of it. One kilometer before arriving at Siwa’s Bus Station, a dirt road forks left into a small palm grove with several mud-brick houses. There’s a maze of dirt tracks in the area, but carefully follow the GPS and you’ll reach the end of a small street. A small wooden gate on the right has “Shamofs Art Camp” written on it and announces you have arrived at the Shamofs Art Camp.
Shamofs Art Camp – The Complex
Maysara was born in a village in the northern part of Syria, Saraqib (at the border with Turkey). In 2012, he had to flee from his home country and start life from zero in another place. When he arrived in Egypt, he lived in Cairo for two years but didn’t like the crazy life of the city. He then moved to Marsha Matruh, on the Mediterranean coast, and from there he soon discovered Siwa. „I fell in love with Siwa and wanted to have a place here.” Being a Syrian, he couldn’t travel, so he wanted to bring the world there and welcome people who wanted to connect with nature and local traditions.
In Siwa, Maysara partnered with Yahia, who owned a small garden on the edge of the oasis. In the shade of palm trees, Maysara lived in a treehouse for eight months. He wanted to connect and feel the place. He then built the camp with his own hands in three years. The small garden slowly transformed into a truly organic farm with fruit trees (guava trees, mold berries, pomegranate, small apple trees, palm trees with dates, cactus, aloe vera, jasmine) and vegetables (eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and olive trees). Additionally, he built a pond on the place of a thermal spring, a tent for people to relax during massage or meditation, and a sitting area centered around a fireplace in the middle of the garden. He also erected an authentic house made of limestone bricks, mud, and palm trunks, and a hobbit house.
Nowadays, the Shamofs proudly sits as the acronym for Spirituality, Healing, Art, Meditation, Organic Farm, and Siwa. It is the perfect mix for those who want to experience nature and history as well as art, meditation, or discovering a part of their soul.
Shamofs Art Camp – Architectural Design
“I wanted to make something simple, where people can come and experience nature – herbs, palm trees, and stay away from cities,” said Maysara. Everything at the Shamofs is made by hand, using traditional materials, tools, and local techniques. You can feel the unique Siwan style everywhere in the garden or the houses. Everything has the imprint of local traditions.
On the left side of the garden, there’s a house made of limestone bricks from the mountains and mud used as a mortar. The house was plastered with mud of brown color. Also, the beams and ceilings of the house were made of local wood (palm, peanut, or olive trees) while the roofs were covered with palm-tree leaves. On the ground floor, there’s an open kitchen and a shared bathroom. On the first floor, a cozy room with red carpets and a big bed with a mosquito net awaits its visitors to enjoy the view. Another small house with rooms lined up along a wooden gallery sits in the garden, next to the kitchen. The rooms feature simple walls plastered with mud. The mud walls have decorations with geometric designs, paintings, or even colorful carpets.
On the opposite side of the pool, a treehouse stands between two palm trees and you have to climb abrupt stairs to get inside. The interior is decorated with colorful fabric pieces sewed together, several dried pumpkins, and a traditional carpet. The space of the treehouse is small but welcoming and the view of the whole garden is breathtaking.
Not far from the treehouse, there’s a sitting room for the winter months. People can gather there to read books, share stories, sing, or simply warm around the fire. In this common room, you won’t miss the Egyptian papyrus and many other small statues of local deities. A few meters away, the hobbit house was not ready at the time of my visit. It’s spacious, though, and features two big en-suite rooms with a small kitchenette and a generous sleeping place. Once this hobbit house will be ready, it will surely be a great add-on to the Shamofs.
When it comes to the decors in the garden, everything seems to be in the right place. Simple decors make you feel like being in the most luxurious place in the world. Maysara learned carpentry and carved many of the palm trucks dotting the garden. Then he bought a sewing machine to make the couches’ tapestries and the tents. Eventually, he even learned how to make fireplaces. When the final part has come, he made all decorations by hand. He dried pumpkins the whole summer and then placed lights inside of them. At night, the whole garden is beautifully lit and the pool reflects the light in many directions.
Shamofs Art Camp – Personal Experience
Since I found Siwa on the map, I knew it would be a unique experience. I’ve always loved deserts and palm oases. Only the thought of living in an oasis for several days excited me to the maximum. When I arrived at the Shamofs, I felt that all the stars had finally aligned for me. Cozy decors, a tiny pool, dates dropping from palm trees right in front of the door. Everything was like in my dreams. Then, my tiny room decorated with red traditional carpets and cushions, and the bed with a fancy mosquito net. All these small details conquered my heart within seconds. Nothing luxurious, however with a gentle traditional and authentic touch resonating with my heart desires. Not to mention the duck cooked in hot sand – Siwan style (bumardan). Or the Syrian dish with camel meat (freeka). All delicious dishes that Maysara cooked with so much love.
During my stay at the Shamofs, we gathered around the fireplace and chatted every evening. We sipped from a glass of tea and gazed at the fire in front of us. Nothing special, just simple things that bring joy in the everyday life. Maysara told me stories about the desert while cuddling the cats – Michio, Pichio, and Sahara. This is how I learned about his passion for falconry as well as for soul painting. I would have never known that training the falcons means teaching them to hunt a specific type of bird or rabbits. After catching and training the falcon, they set the falcon free after one year. After that, the falcon will hunt the bird, but they will share the food with the falcon. They will take half of the bird and then give the rest to the falcon.
The Shamofs Art Camp is a traditional Siwan camp in all its rights. You can feel the local culture right from its door and then immerse in the authentic decors, the shade of the palm trees, and the swimming pool for hours. I will never forget cuddling with the cats, admiring the sky from the fireplace, and chatting with Maysara about life in the desert and Siwa.
Shamofs Art Camp can be found on their Facebook Page.
Some more photos from Shamofs Art Camp, Siwa Oasis (Egypt):