Places of Interest
|Apart from the Monastery of St.
Catherine and Mt. Sinai (Jebel Musa) - more information
in the appropriate sections - there are many other
places worth visiting. They can be divided, with
some overlappings, into four groups: areas of religious,
historical, cultural and natural importance.
Beyond the many religious places found around the
Monastery of St. Katherine and on the top of Jebel
Musa (Mt. Sina) and Jebel Safsafa there are many
other churches, monasteries and holy places in the
area and a bit furhter afield. The most notable
ones are described below.
The Chapel of St. Katherine is on the summit
of Jebel Katherina, the mountain where the body
of the saint from Alexandria was placed by angels,
according to Christian beliefs. The saint, born
as Dorothea in 294 AD, was educated in pagan schools
but converted to Christianity for which she was
executed. Her body vanished, but some three centuries
later, monks guided by a dream found it on the mountain.
It was brought down and placed in a golden casket
in the Monastery what became known since the 11th
century as the Monastery of St. Katherine.
Hajar Musa (Rock of Moses) in Wadi el Arbain,
where Prophet Moses fetched water from the rock.
A holy place to all the big monotheiostic religions,
Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Locals believe
the twelve clefts on it represent the twelve springs
mentioned in the Quran (Sura 2:60). It is also mentioned
in the Exodus as the rock which sustained the children
of Israel (1 Cor. 10:4). There is a small Orthodox
chapel next to it. According to Swiss orientalist
Johann Ludwig Burkhardt the Jebeliya Bedouin believe
"that by making [female camels] crouch down
before the rock [...] the camels will become fertile
and yield more milk". There is also a Bedouin
marriage proposal rock in the walled compound.
The Monastery of the Forty Martyrs, in Wadi
el Arbain "was constructed in the sixth century
in honor of the forty Christian martyrs who died
in Sebaste (central Turkey). Monks relate that forty
Christian soldiers from the Roman Army in the third
century were commanded to worship pagan gods. They
refused and were put to death by being exposed at
night to the bitterly cold winds off a frozen lake.
Those who survived until morning were killed by
the sword. [...] In the grounds of this monastery
is a chapel dedicated to the hermit Saint Onuphrius.
Coming from Upper Egypt, he was said to have lived
for seventy years in the rock shelter at the northern
end of the garden, until he died in AD 390."
The Monastery of Cosmas and Damianos in Wadi
Talaa, named after the martyred brothers who were
doctors and treated locals for free in the 3d century
AD. The garden of the monastery, looked after by
a Bedouin family, has a long olive grove, some tall
cypress trees, other fruit trees and vegetables.
There are more gardens belonging to the Monastery
further down in the wadi.
The Chapel of Saint John Klimakos, or St.
John of the Ladder, was built in 1979 in Wadi Itlah
to commemorate his devotional work in the 6th century
AD. Also spelled St. John Climacus or Climax, the
saint spent forty years in solitude in a cave above
the existing chapel. "During this time, Klimakos
was elected Abbot of Sinai and asked to write a
spiritual guide. He composed The Ladder of Divine
Ascent which likens spiritual life to the ladder
seen by the Patriach Jacob extending from earth
to heaven (Genesis 28:12-17)." According to
the book the ladder "consists of 30 rungs,
each step corresponding to a spiritual virtue. Through
silence and solitude hermits and monks sought to
climb the divine ladder. The first rung instructs
the renunciation of all earthly ties and the next
14 relate to human vices such as talkativeness,
anger, despondency and dishonesty. The final 15
rungs relate to virtues including meekness, simplicity,
prayer, holy stillness and humility. The crowning
virtue is love."
The Monastery of Wadi Feiran, with its chapel
dedicated to Prophet Moses, is some 60 kms before
reaching St. Katherine. The wadi is mentioned in
the Genesis (21:21) "as the place where Hagar
dwelt with her son after Abraham sent her away.
As late as the 7th century, Firan was a city and
an important Christian center, with its own bishop."
The Monastery of El Tur was built by Emperor
Justinian in the important port city, which was
an early Christian center from the 3d century AD.
Today it lies in ruins but there is a new monastery
in the city, as well as a church and a guest house.
The Spring of Moses is reputed for its therapeutic
Other important monasteries in the region are the
Monastery of Ramhan south of Mt. Katherina,
the Monastery of Hodra near the oasis of
Ain Hodra, and several smaller, ruined monasteries
and churches. Most of the best preserved places
are found close to the village of St. Katherine
in Wadi Shrayj, Wadi Anshel, Bustan
el Birka, Wadi Abu Zaituna, and also
in the High Mountains such as at Ain Nagila
and in Wadi Jebal.
Places important to local people include the tombs
of local saints such as Sheikh Harun (Aaron's
Tomb) and Shaikh Salah (Nebi-Salah's Tomb)
in the main wadi (Wadi Sheikh) before reaching town,
or Sheikh Awad and Sheikh Ahmed in
the mountains. Some of the Bedouin gather at these
tombs to celebrate "Zuara", while
others consider this practice to be "bidaa",
an innovation and not consistent with Islam. (In
fact, most of the bidaa is actually predating Islam
and is rather a survival of a tradition than an
innovation.) Zuara, also known as Sheik Day
or Mulid (Moulid), "is performed by
most Sinai tribes at the tombs of Sheiks, or in
nearby shelters called mak'ad when a Bedouin or
group of Bedouin wish to ask the Sheikh to intervene
with Allah on their behalf. Zuara is the generic
name for any activity of this sort. In addition
to the Mulid, the bedouins often practice Zuara
on a weekly basis. The sick Bedouins or their relatives,
pregnant mothers looking for healthy children, or
people looking for a good crop, go to a tomb. [...]
Until the 1956 war in the Sinai, the Gebeliya and
the Auled-Said shared a common Mulid (the annual
Zuara) at the tomb of Nebi-Saleh; however the war
forced them to conduct the ceremonies at separate
locations; but the tribes are still apparently close.
Now the Gebeliya go to Aaron's tomb down the road,
and the Auled-Said go to Nebi Salah's tomb. Both
go in the 8th month. The Garasha and Sawalha also
go to Nebi-Salah's tomb for their Mulid but in the
7th Month." Some of the Jebeliya gather at
the Tomb of Sheikh Awad on the second day of Eid
el Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.
One of the prime historical attractions in the area
is the Palace of Abbas Hilmi I. Pasha, who
was Viceroy of Egypt between 1849 - 1854. The palace
was built on a mountain called at the time Jebel
Tinya, but later named after him and today called
Jebel Abbas Basha. The palace has never been
finished as he died before it was completed, but
the massive 2 meter-thick walls made of granite
blocks and granite-sand bricks still stand firmly.
The open quarry on the top of Jebel Somra, just
opposite Jebel Abbas Basha, is still visible with
many huge blocks lying around. Other blocks were
cut from Wadi Zawatiin, at the beginning of the
ascent to the palace. The bricks were made on site
while the mortar, made of lime and water, was burnt
in kilns in the surrounding valleys. To be able
to carry out the work, first he had to build a road
accessible to camels and donkeys in order to transport
the supplies. The road, starting at Abu Jeefa and
going through Wadi Tubug and Wadi Zawatin are still
in use today.
Grandson and successor of the great reformist Mohammed
Ali Pasha, Abbas Pasha was in many ways the opposite.
He had "a lasting distrust of foreigners [and]
strongly opposed many of the Western inspired change
introduced by his grandfather Mohammed Ali Pasha
(1805-1848) and he is remembered as a traditionalist
and reactionary who undid many of his grandfather's
modernising reforms. His secretive and suspicious
nature led to much speculation over his death; it
is uncertain whether he was murdered or died of
Abbas Pasha was suffering from tuberculosis so one
of the reasons he wanted to build his palace in
the high mountains was for medical reasons. On the
other hand he liked a secluded lifestyle and had
other remote palaces. According to traditions he
selected the place after placing meat on the top
of Mt. Sinai, Mt. Katherina and Mt. Tinya, and it
was here at the former that the meat decayed later,
suggesting a better environment and cleaner air.
Another account recalls that this story was actually
made up by the monks to keep him away from the holy
peaks. In any case, his selection would have been
just as good with magnificent views from the palace
over the Sinai mountain range.
Although Abbas Pasha is "best remembered for
the emancipation of the fellaheen and the construction
of the Cairo-Alexandria railway line in 1851",
he "had a significant influence on the immediate
area around St Katherine. Besides the construction
of the mountain top palace he comissioned the building
of the camel path up to Mount Sinai and the
Askar barracks on the way to the monastery,
which now lies in ruins."
There are hundreds of ruins of Byzantine monasteries,
churches and monastic settlements in the area,
some of them not much more than a pile of rocks,
others difficult to distinguish from Bedouin buildings,
but there are several very well preserved ones.
Many can be found in the wide and open Bustan
el Birka area, approachable from the settlement
of Abu Seila or Abu Zaituna, including churches,
houses on hills overlooking gardens in the wadi
floor, buildings in clusters and hermit cells under
rocks. They are among the best preserved ones and
they can be easily reached from the village.
There is a graceful little church in very good shape
in Wadi Shrayj , passing other somewhat more
ruined Byzantine buildings. Further up from the
church there are more ruins, some dating back to
the Nabatean era (BC 200 - AD 100).
In Wadi Mathar (Wadi Shag) there is a hermit
cell under a huge boulder, the remains of the
monks who died in there centuries ago are still
in the walled-up chamber. Further up is a well preserved
monastic settlement with houses and a round building
which might have been a storage room.
Byzantine Nawamises, burial places with rocks
placed around in circles, are found at many locations,
such as at the beginning of Wadi Jebal or
in Wadi Mathar. Halfway in Wadi Jebal there is a
Roman well before you reach a well preserved
Byzantine church next to a walled garden and spring.
There is another church at the spring of Ain
Nagila, at the foot of Jebel el Bab. You can
find ruins of other settlements and buildings in
Wadi Tinya, Wadi Shag Tinya, in Farsh
Abu Mahashur, and many other places.
The building technique of the Bedouin is taken from
the Byzantine settlers, so it is often difficult
to tell structures apart. Furthermore the Bedouin
often used the ruins in later times. But there are
telling clues. Byzantine buildings were scattered
close to each other in small settlements, and round
buidings are most likely to be from the Byzantine
period. While the Bedouin have storage rooms constructed
under rocks, they would have been too low for hermits
to pray in an upright, kneeling position. "Rounded-walls,
niches and shelves and tiny doors are typical of
Byzantine stone dwellings. [Charasteristic] how
the stones are laid without mortar and the absence
of a roof. You can also find traces of ancient water
systems or conduits which were used to direct rain
water to the settlement and for irrigation use.
Typical of the Byzantine era water conduits or channels
directed the mountain rains to cisterns or pools.
Water conduits were constructed using natural drainage
lines in the granite and by cementing flat stones
with a natural mortar. The outdoor courtyards are
thought to be an area for meeting guests and for
A bit further afield, at Serabit al-Khadim,
there are ancient turquoise mines and Pharaonic
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. It can be reached from Wadi Feiran via Wadi
Mukattab, the Valley of Inscription by camels
or 4WD .
There is a massive Nawamis close to the Oasis of
Ain Hudra, as well as a Pharaonic Rock of Inscription.
It lies not far from the main road to Dahab, but
you should not attempt to find it yourself. You
can probably find guides in Ain Hodra, or organize
a safari that includes it in St. Katherine.
The Blue Desert (Blue Mountain), just before
reaching St. Katherine to the left in a wide open
wadi, is to commemorate the peace agreement between
Egypt and Israel. Anwar Sadat, who loved the area
and had a house in St. Katherine, payed with his
life for this move. The display was made by Belgian
artist Jean Verame in 1980-81, who painted many
of the boulders over an area of ca. 15 km2 and a
hill blue. A popular day trip from the city usually
accompanied by a camp fire and music, it adds a
bit of blue colour to the red of sunset.
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 mastered grafting 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.
The views from the highest mountains in Egypt are
spectacular, and there are many other natural sights
in the wadi system. There are springs, creeks, water
pools, narrow canyons, steep wadis with huge boulders,
amazing rock formations, barren plains with islands
of lush vegetation. On the top of the mountains
there are many interconnected basins with a unique
high altitude ecosystem, home to the World's smallest
butterfly and other rare plant species.
The highest mountain in Egypt is Jebel Katherine,
and there are many other peaks in the area over
2000 meters. Jebel Katherine can be reached via
Wadi el Arbain or Wadi Shag, either way a full day.
Usually the trek makes a circle, with sleeping at
the top. There is a small orthodox church at the
top, it is closed for the public. The Monastery
constructed a small stone hut where trekkers and
pilgrims can stay for overnight in cold weather.
There is usally candle and matches in case you forget,
but you can leave some if you got too many. There
is also a broom and rubbish bins, and people are
expected to clean up after themselvs. From the peak
there are spectacular views over Mt. Sinai, and
on a clear day you can see as far as Sharm el Sheikh.
Jebel Abbas Basha is another popular peak,
from here you can see the village as well as the
rest of the high mountains. It can be reached in
one day, but if you want to stay for the sunset,
it is better to make it in two days, either sleeping
on the top or in Wadi Zawatin or Wadi Tinya at the
base of the mountain.
A little further is Jebel el Bab, which could
be visited in two long days, but better included
in a 3-4 days trek visiting other places as well.
On the way up from Wadi Jebal you pass Ras Abu
Alda, a rock formation resembling the head of
a mountain goat, from where there are beautiful
views to Jebel Umm Shomar, another popular
peak even further, and the southern ranges. From
the peaks of Jebel el Bab and Bab el Donya you are
looking over Jebel Tarbush and can see el Tur and
the Gulf of Suez. Under the peaks is the spring
of Ain Nagila.
Other popular peaks in the area include Jebel
Ahmar, Jebel Serbal, Jebel Banat,
There are many small ponds flowing under the rocks
in lush Wadi Talaa Kibira, leading down to
the biggest water pool of the area, Galt el Azraq,
the Blue Pool. Its colour is actually changing according
to the regular floods; one brings sand from higher
up, the next takes it further down and cleans the
pool. It is safe to swim in it.
There are permanent pools at the top of Wadi
Shag Tinya, the Kharazet el Shag, in
a dramatic setting. The water from Wadi Tinya drops
into a granite pool from which it flows done to
other pools and falls into a deep wadi, some places
running under rocks, at other places resurfacing
again. The water is clean enough to drink in the
At the beginning of Wadi Shag there is a
narrow canyon where there are permanent granite
waterpools, from which water is disappearing in
the sandy floor at one place and only emerging before
the end of the wadi.
Water is trickling from the rock into a double fountain
in Wadi Tubug. The lower fountain is for
animals, locals drink from the upper one. It is
considered safe, although you might need to treat
the water. There is also a 1000 years old mulberry
tree in Wadi Tubug, which is protected by tribal
law. From Wadi Tubug you can descend to Sid Daud,
a narrow and steep path leading through small caves
under the boulders.
In the narrow canyon of Wadi Sagar there
is another water fountain. Because of the steep
path, animals can't reach it and the water is safe
A rarely visited route through Wadi Umm Surdi
leads through a narrow canyon to Wadi Mathar
and another mulberry tree which grows just outside
a garden and belongs to everyone.
To have a better idea of the wadi system visit the
gallery where images are organized according to
geographical locations. There will also be a separate
section describing all the main wadis.
Dr. Evangelos Papaioannou: The Monastery
of St. Catherine - St. Catherine's Monastery
Wadi Arbaein & Wadi Shrayj, A Walking
Trail Guide - National Parks of Egypt Protectorates
Wadi I'tlah & Wadi Tala', A Walking Trail
Guide - National Parks of Egypt Protectorates Development
Larry Roeder: http://members.fcac.org/~lroeder/muzeina.htm
Larry Roeder: http://members.nova.org/~lroeder/tuara2.htm
Jebel Abbas Pasha, A Walking Trail Guide
- National Parks of Egypt Protectorates Development
Climbing in Santa Catherine area in South Sinai
All you need to know about rock climbing in the area. Maps, route descriptions, photos, background information.
"To navigate this site it is recommended that you start from the Interactive schema of climbing areas page containing links to pictures of main climbing walls (with routes). Every route has its own index (i.e. E21), that can also be found in List of climbing routes. Some descriptions of routes can be located by clicking on a route from List or by clicking on index from schemas."
Into the hills (By Ragi Halim)
Trekking in Wadi Arbain and visiting Ramadan's Rock Hyrax Farm
"That's no elephant! The desert creature known as the rock hyrax is excruciatingly shy in the wild, but the hyraxes kept by Ramadan Musa Abu Said, a Bedouin from southern Sinai, have been tamed --just one of the small adventures among the treks of Saint Catherine Protectorate"
Gabal Musa safaris
"Climbing Mount Catherine is quite a different experience. This, at 2,842 metres above sea level, is the highest peak in the peninsula. The summit peak is a huge, naked block of granite descending steeply on all sides, making it easy to identify. The mountain, which lies south-west of Mount Sinai, can be approached from the plain of Raha via Wadi El-Luju. The base of the mountain is abundant in desert herbs and reeds which provide nutritious feed for camels and goats. Unlike Mount Sinai, the foliage grows denser as one climbs upwards. On the summit is a small chapel, built into the contours of the rock face and dedicated to Saint Catherine, the patron saint of the monastery, whose body, according to monastic legend, was carried there by angels after her martyrdom in Alexandria. The view from the summit of Mount Catherine takes in a wider vista than that of Mount Sinai."
these pages are regularly updated and more content
is added - check back later!