The town of St. Katherine is in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt at an elevation of about 1600 meters from sea level, at the foot of the Sinai High Mountains. Up to a thousand visitors come to visit St. Katherine’s Monastery, the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the World built on the site where Moses (Prophet Musa) talked to God in the miracle of the Burning Bush, and to climb Mt. Sinai (the Biblical Mt. Horeb, known locally as Jebel Musa) where Moses has received the Ten Commandments. Most visitors arrive on organized coach tours from the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh, Taba and Dahab in the evening, have dinner and maybe a couple of hours sleep in a hotel, climb the mountain at dawn, visit the Monastery in the morning and return to the resort. St. Catherine and Mt. Sinai can be visited independently as well, avoiding the busy times on the mountain and discovering the rest of what this unique region offers.
The region is a UNESCO World Heritage Area for its natural and cultural importance, and in fact, you could spend weeks to explore it. There are over 200 religious places and other important monasteries and churches, ruins of Byzantine monastic settlements, the highest mountains in Egypt with spectacular views, amazing rock formations and landscape. It is a unique high-altitude desert eco-system with many endemic and rare species, there is a whole range of medicinal plants used by locals for centuries which are not found elsewhere, there are water-pools, springs, creeks, narrow canyons and wide valleys. In the valleys of the high mountains, called wadis, everywhere you go there are beautiful Bedouin gardens unique to this area only. Its original inhabitants, the kind and friendly Jebeliya (Gebeliya) Bedouin are expert gardeners and camel herders, and if you take your time you might have a glimpse into their closed, traditional, albeit slowly changing way of life and culture that has been around for more than 1400 years.For visitors, this site contains practical and background information about the city, the region and its people. For local businesses, projects and the community in general, it provides a web-presence: all listings are free, but entries must be related to the area or its people.
|For information about travel to Egypt, visit Alternative Egypt, a useful travel guide for the independent traveller.|
St. Katherine is a new city, with all amenities of a modern place: there are several schools, including a high school, a hospital, police, hotels of various standard and so on. Howeveer, a few decades ago it wasn’t like this. The tarmac road was constructed in the 1980s, and only Bedouin people and the monks from the Monastery lived here. It lies in a basin at the junction of a number of wadis (valleys), surrounded by high mountains. Communities in these valleys are part of St. Katherine Municipality, while St. Katherine’s City consists of El Milga, El Rasis, Shamiya, Raha and Nabi Harun areas. El Milga, the town center, used to be a meeting place of the tribes who practiced seasonal migration and gathered annually at one of these places. >>> more
The traditional people of the area are the Jebeliya Bedouin – the People of the Mountains – who have been living in the region since the foundation of St. Katherine’s Monastery. They are of Eastern European origin, having been brought by Emperor Justinian from the Black Sea region in the 6th century AD to protect and serve the monastery. In fact, they are one of the first peoples of Sinai who were here before most other Bedouin tribes and the spread of Islam. Along the centuries they intermarried with other Arab tribes and became Muslims. Their traditions and way of life are similar to other Bedouin groups, although their roots are different and there are unique features. The Jebeliya consists of four clans called Roba, or quarter, which is divided into more smaller groups. >>> more
The Monastery of St. Katherine is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the World and its library has the largest religious collection next to the Vatican only. It was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, although there was already a church at the site of the Burning Bush erected by the Empress Helena in 330 AD. Byzantine Orthodox monasticism has even earlier roots, and the area is sacred to all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The monastery was under the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, Arab and Turkish leaders and Napoleon, which helped to preserve it virtually undamaged. In the walled compound there is a Fatimid mosque built next to the Orthodox church, a rare coexistence of religions in today’s World. >>> more
Mt. Sinai (Gabal Musa)
Called Mt. Horeb in the Bible and locally known as Jebel Musa (Gebel Musa), Mt Sinai is concidered to be the place where Prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. One of the highest mountains in Egypt, with a small Orthodox church and a mosque on its summit at 2285 meters from sea level. Mt Sinai forms one massif with Jebel Safsafa and Jebel Loza, with many small basins on the top. In these basins there are old churches, small gardens and relics of monastic life. The most common route to the peak is from the Monastery via the “Steps of Repentance ” built by monks or via the camel path built by Viceroy of Egypt, Abbas Hilmi Pasha I., although there are several other less travelled beautiful treks. >>> more
The Sinai High Mountain Region
With most of it having formed some 600 milliion years ago, the Sinai mountain range is one of the World’s oldest massifs. Apart from the red granite rock which takes up 80 % of the Sinai High Mountain Region, there are newer, 10 million year-old black volcanic rock formations. The interconnected labyrinth of valleys were created by the rains and melting snow, and are dotted with gigantic boulders brought down by the enormous force of water. Regular flash floods still sweep through the wadis, causing damage to gardens and buildings, but at the same time replenishing the underground water catchment basins on which the very same gardens depend on. >>> more
Places of Interest
Apart from the many religious places found around the Monastery of St. Katherine and on the top of Jebel Musa (Mt. Sina), there are many more churches, monasteries and holy places in the area and a bit furhter afield. There are many other historical places, dating back to Pharaonic, Nabatean and Byzantine times, or more recent sites, such as the Palace of Abbas Hilmi I. Pasha. The area is full of natural and cultural wonders, such as water-pools, creeks and springs in the dry, barren mountain wadis where there are beautiful Bedouin gardens and buildings set among amazing rock formations. From the highest mountains of Egypt you have spectacular views as far as Sharm el Sheikh, El Tur and the Gulf of Suez. >>> more