St. Katherine

Saint Catherine's Town Sinai
St. Katherine Municipality, South Sinai, Egypt
Administration: South Sinai Governorate (El Tur) and St Katherine’s City Council
Population: 4,603 (1994) – this includes many small settlements around St Katherine.
Elevation: 1500-1750 m (4900-5700 ft)
Districts: El-Matar, Wadi Mandar, Wadi Elagramiah, Wadi Abo Selah, Wadi Asbaeia, Wadi Tarfa, Wadi Sheikh Awwad, Wadi Leboud, Wadi El-Arbaien, Wadi El Marwa, Wadi El-Zeitonah, and Wadi Nabi Saleh


Practical Info

Map of St Catherine, Sinai Egypt

Click to open map of St. Katherine.

Bank Misr: in mall, ATM and cash advances on Visa and MasterCard. If internet is cut off, that happens sometimes, you cannot withdraw money either way.
Sun-Thu 9 AM – 2 PM, 6 PM – 8 PM
Telephone Central: opposite Mosque, 24 hrs
Post Office: opposite Mosque, Sun-Thu 9 AM – 4 PM
Hospital: opposite Plaza Hotel, Raha Plain. If possible, avoid it, rather take a taxi to Dahab’s private hospital. Can be a life saving decision.
Police: branches at the Monastery, HQ in El Milga
Hotels: Shamiya, El Milga, Raha Plain, Wadi Sheikh
Shops, Cafés, Restaurants: groceries in every district, hardware and clothes in El Milga, supermarkets in the mall close after midnight, restaurants close around 9 PM
Transport: minibus station and bus station in St Katherine centre, petrol station (24 hrs) in St Katherine and Nabi Salah


St. Katherine is one of the newest cities in Egypt, with all amenities of a modern place: there are several schools, including a high school, a hospital, police and firebrigade, a range of hotels, Post Office, Telephone Center, bank and all other important establishments. Few decades ago it was not much more than the annual gathering place of the Jebeliya Bedouin at El Milga plain and a few more or less temporary settlements. The oldest settlement in the region is Wadi El Sybaiya, east of the Monastery, where the Roman soldiers, whose descendants the Jebeliya are, were accomodated. It started growing into a city after the tarmac road was completed in the 1980s and the tourist trade begun. Many of the nomad Bedouins moved to small settlements around the Monastery, which collectively make up St. Katherine’s City. The districts of El Milga, El Rasis, Shamiya, Raha and Nabi Harun form the core of the city, at the end of the tarmac road where the valleys of Wadi el Arbain (Wadi El Lega), Wadi Quez, Wadi Raha, Wadi Shrayj and Wadi el Dier connect to the main wadi, Wadi Sheikh. There are settlements in Wadi Sheikh before town and other smaller ones in the wadis. The Municipality of St. Katherine includes these outlying areas as well. Some of the government offices are planned to be moved to Wadi el Isbaiya, which starts from the main road opposite Abu Zaituna. With the financial help of the EU water will be brought to St. Katherine from the Nile, pumping it up to a height of almost two kilometers. The constarction is under way and the pipes are in Wadi Feiran at the moment. There are a number of other development projects in St. Katherine and the area, check the “Local Initiatives” section.


st-katherine-logoSt. Catherine or St. Katherine?
The martyr whose name the Monastery and the town wears was from Alexandria, Egypt , and in the manuscripts her name is written in Greek: Αγίας Αικατερίνης. With Roman letters it is usually spelt as St. Katherine. However, since it corresponds to a common Western name, it is often spelled as St. Catherine, but sometimes even as St. Katrina, St. Kathrina, St. Katharina or St. Katarina. In Arabic it is Sant Katrin.


The Monastery lies in Wadi el Dier, opposite Wadi Raha (Wadi Muka’das, the Holy Valley). Mt Sinai (Jebel Musa) can be reached from the Monastery or, alternatively, from Wadi el Arbain where the Rock of Moses (Hajar Musa) and the Monastery of the Forty Martyrs are. The High Mountains literally surround the city with many smaller valleys leading from the basin to the mountains in all directions. The high altitude provides a pleasant climate, with refreshing cool summer nights and warm and sunny winter days.

Avarage temperatures in the St.Catherine area

Jan.
Feb.
Mar.
Apr.
May
Jun.
Jul.
Aug.
Sep.
Oct.
Nov.
Dec.
Max C°
16.1
18.1
17.3
23.1
29.1
31.3
32.4
32.7
30.5
24.8
21.9
15.1
Min C°
1.9
4.2
5.3
8.3
14.0
16.3
18.2
20.2
17.7
12.8
9.5
6.1

Religion: St. Katherine is in a region holy to the World’s three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a place where the children of Israel wandered in search of the promised land and where Moses received the Ten Commandments; a place where early Christianity has flourished and the Orthodox monastic tradition still continues in present day; a place which the Prophet Mohammed took under his protection in his Letter to the Monks and where people still live in respect to others. Many events recorded in the Bible took place in the area, and there are hundreds of places of religious importance in the region. Just in the town itself there are two ancient churches, and the Monastery of St. Katherine and the Rock of Moses are only a short distance away.

History: “From time immemorial, Sinai has been one of the world’s important crossroads. In the 16th cent. BC, the Egyptian Pharaos built the way of Shur across Sinai to Beersheba and on to Jerusalem.” Sinai provided the empire with Turquoise, gold and copper, and well preserved ruins of mines and temples are found not far from St. Katherine at Serabit al-Khadim and Wadi Mukattab, the Valley of Inscription. They include temples from the 12th Dynasty, dedicated to Hathor, Goddess of Love, Music and Beauty, and from the New Kingdom dedicated to Sopdu, the God of the Eastern Desert. This was called the “Land of Turquoise”, but its present name, according to some sources, is after Sin, “the moon goddess worshiped by the prehistoric inhabitants of the desert.” Others atribute the name to the Arab word for tooth, because of the sharp mountain ranges. Romans and Nabateans used its routes and there are Nabatean ruins right in St. Katherine in Wadi Shrayj and in Wadi Raha.

Hagar, wife of Abraham (known as Prophet Ibrahim to Muslims) dwelled with her son not far in Firan Oasis (Wadi Feiran) as mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 21:21). According to traditions Moses, also a prophet to Muslims, lived in the area for 40 years as mentioned in the book of Exodus.

Exodus

“Moses was discovered as a baby in a papyrus basket floating amongst rushes at the edge of the Nile. The Pharaoh at the time had cammanded that all newborn Hebrew boys be thrown into the Nile, but his daughter found the baby, rescued him and brought him up on the Pharaoh’s court, naming him Moses.As a young man Moses was sentenced to death for assaulting and killing an Egyptian foreman who had beaten up an Israelite labourer, and to escape execution he fled to the Sinai mountains. Here he met and married one of the seven daughters of Jethro and lived for forty years with his father-in-law, tending his flocks and cleansing his soul. One day god revealed himself to Moses in the Miracle of the Burning Bush and ordered Moses to save the children of Israel from captivity.God parted the Red Sea to allow the six hundred thousand Israelites to be led to the plain beneath Mount Horeb (now Jebel Musa/Ras Safsaafa). Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, during which time God presented him with two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. While waiting for Moses to return, they were visited by Moses’ brother, Aaron, who made them a statue of a golden calf to worship. On returning from Mount Horeb, Moses was so outraged at this worship of an idol that he smashed the tablets. He then returned to the mountain where God instructed him to carve two new tablets. At Moses’ request God also revealed himself in a flash of light, but first He cut a cleft in the rock to shield Moses from His blinding glory.

Exalted, Moses descended the mountain with the new tablets and with instructions from God to lead the people to the Land of Canaan (present day Israel). The Israelites built the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets, and the Ten Commandments of the Lord became the basis of Jewish and Christian religion and social organization.”

Mount Sinai, A Walking Trail Guide – National Parks of Egypt Protectorates Development Programmes

The Israelites are belived to have camped at the foot of Mt. Safsafa at Wadi Raha (meaning the resting place) while Moses climbed the mountain. A rock formation at the foot of Ras Safsafa resembles a cow and is said to be the place where the Golden Calf was made. In the 7th century “another great prophet of Israel, Elijah [Eliyahu], came to this area, seeking refuge from the rage of Queen Jezebel. A cave in a chapel on Mount Moses dedicated to the Prophet is the traditional site where he lodged and spoke with God (1 Kings 19:9-15).”
From early Byzantine times (AD 300 – 700) the area has been home to many Christian monks who escaped persecution. Orthodox Monasticism was strengthened when Christianity became the official religion of the empire and the Monastery was founded. Ruins of Byzantine churches and monastic settlements are found in several locations in and around town, the best preserved ones in the basins of Jebel Ras Safsafa, in Wadi Shrayj and in the area around Bustan el Birka, and scattered all around the High Mountain Region. To protect and serve the Monastery people from the Balkan were brought by Emperor Justinian whose ancestors still live here.
In more recent times Napoleon donated the belltower to the Monastery, and Abbas Hilmi Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt made some constructions in the area, including the camel path to Mt. Sinai and his palace on Jebel Abbas Basha. After independence from the English Sinai became part of Egypt, but was lost to Israel in 1967. Anwar Sadat brokered the peace deal with Israel in Camp David in 1978, for which he payed with his life. He loved Sinai and had a house in St. Katherine as a mountain retreat. To mark the peace a Belgian artist painted huge boulders blue in a desert not far, since called the Blue Desert or Blue Mountain.

Culture: The traditional people of the area, the Jebeliya Bedouin, are a unique people having been brought from Southern-Eastern Europe in the 6th century AD. Originally Christians, they soon converted to Islam and intermarried with other nomad tribes. Some segments of the tribe arrived relatively recently from the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine and Egypt. Their culture is very similar to other Bedouin groups, but they preserved some unique features. Contrary to other Bedouin tribes, the Jebeliya have always been practicing agriculture and are expert gardeners which is very evident in the wadis around St. Katherine. They have lived and still live in a symbiotic relationship with the Monastery and its monks, and even today many Bedouin work with the Monastery on its compound or in one of its gardens.

Nature: The town is within the St. Katherine Protectorate, which was established in 1988. It is a unique high altitude desert eco-system with many endemic and rare species, including the World’s smallest butterfly (the Sinai Baton Blue Butterfly), flocks of shy Nubian Ibex, and literally hundreds of different plants of medicinal value. The region has been decleraed a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Some of the species are endangered, but there are many wild animals, birds, flowers to see. There are many Sinai Agamas, foxes, rock Hyraxes. Harmless for people, foxes regularly visit the town at night to steal and scavange. Rock Hyraxes are frequenting gardens, and there is a wide range of migrating and resident birds. Also, there is a large number of feral donkies in the mountains who migrate to the town and lower lying areas (reportedly as far as El Tur) in the winter and go back to graze for the more plentyful summer. Many of them belong to families and are stamped with a wasm mark. However, they put a big pressure on the eco-system and there is a move to reduce their numbers by the St. Katherine Protectorate. One of the principal goals of the Protectorate is to preserve the bio-diversity of the fragile eco-system, with an emphasis on the Nubian Ibex and the wild medicinal and aromatic plants. The St. Katherine Protectorate is another major job provider in the area, although the number of local Bedouins employed fell back sharply since the innitial EU support ended, according to locals sources.

Geography and Climate: St. Catherine lies at the foot of the Sinai High Mountain Region, the “Roof of Egypt”, where Egypt’s highest mountains are found. The town itself is at an elevation of 1600 meters (5200 ft), which makes it a pleasant retreat in the hot summer months. Winters, on the other hand, can be cold, but the days are usually sunny enough to feel comfortable outdoors (most locals still wearing only sandals with no socks), but at nights it does get sub-zero temperatures. Some trekking groups however prefer especially the winter season as they find it more comfortable to hike and climb in these conditions. This is the only place in Egypt where it snows on a regular basis, even in the village, although snow remains only in the mountains. Snow is the best source of water as it melts slowly, thus releasing water at a steady pace, replenishing the underwater cachment areas better. Water from rains flows down fast in the barren mountains, which may cause flash-floods and less water remains. Climate change is strongly effecting the area, there are less rains and snows and, although there are still many permanent water sources in the mountains, the area is drying. Old people recall that in olden days there was at least one rain in every 40 days, and even younger people recall how much greener the valleys were. The city also puts a great pressure on the water resources, as ground water in the valley is from the mountains. Today water has to be purchased and brought in by trucks. There is work under way to connect the town to the Nile via a pipe line which is expected to be completed in 2008.

References:

• Dr. Evangelos Papaioannou: The Monastery of St. Catherine – St. Catherine’s Monastery
• Mount Sinai, A Walking Trail Guide – National Parks of Egypt Protectorates Development Programmes
UNDP Global Environment Facility

Mt Sinai hike on Google Maps Mount Sinai hike, St Catherine Egypt        

See photos of Mt. Sinai