Cultural Heritage

The Jebeliya are skilled gardeners and craftsmen who have been building gardens, houses, store rooms, water dams and other structures in the mountains for centuries. The techiques used are very similar to the Byzantine methods, partly because of the natural environment, partly because of the interaction between the Bedouin and the Monastery. In fact, they have received seeds from the monks to start crops. They grow vegetables and fruit in stone walled gardens called bustan or karm, and masteredgrafting where a branch of a better yielding low land variety is planted on a more resistant but low yielding mountain variety. Some of the plants are only found here in Egypt, such as almond, because of the moderate climate. Other fruits grown include apple, pear, apricotes, peach, fig, pistachio, dates and grapes. Walnut is rare but grown at a few locations. Mulbery grows wild in some of the wadis and they belong to the whole tribe. Wild figs, tasty but small, grow in many places. Olives are very important, as manifested in the derivation of the arabic name, zaitun, found in many location names. Vegetables are not grown to the extent as in the past because of less water. Flowers and medicinal herbs are grown everywhere.
The gardens are usually built in the wadi floors in the main water course, and are encircled by massive stone walls. These walls have to withstand the regular flash floods, retain the soil – thus called retaining wall – and protect the garden from animals. Water wells are either built in the garden or a number of gardens have one. Today usually generators pump the water, but you can still see many shadoofs. Water is often found at higher elevations, either in natural springs or in wells made at dykes called jidda. The Bedouin built small dams and closed off canyons to make reservoirs. In either case water is chanelled to small rock pools called birka, from where it was available for irrigation. Water was flown in narrow conduits made of flat rocks sometimes for kilometers – they are still visible but today gardens rely on plastic pipes (khartoom). These gardens are a unique feature of the high mountain area, along with other stone and rock structures.
Bedouin houses are simple and small stone structures with cane roofing, either incorporated in the garden wall, or standing alone a bit further up from the wadi floor, away from the devastating flash floods that sweep through after occasional heavy rains. Houses are often built next to huge boulders, natural cracks and holes in it are used as shelves and candle holders. The Bedouin prefer to stay under the stars, though, and the houses are only used in cold weather.
Smaller rock shelters and store rooms are constructed under boulders and in walled up caves, and are found everywhere in the mountainous area. Some of them are well visible landmarks, such as in Abu Seila or Farsh Rummana, but most hard to distinguish from the landscape.
You can see ancient leopard traps in many places, either under boulders such as in Wadi Talaa, or standing alone as on the top of Abu Geefa. A goat was placed in as a bait, and the entrance was slammed closed with a big rock when the leopard entered. There are no more leopards left in the Sinai, the last was spotted in the 1980s.
In many places you can see big boulders with oval marks engraved on the surface. They are mariage proposal rocks, where a lover drew a line around his foot on the rock face next to his lover’s foot print. If the two marks are encircled, their wish was granted and they got married.
Wishing Rocks are boulders, usually a short distance from the main paths, with a flat top: if you throw a pebble and it stays on the top, your wish will come true.

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