St. Catherine town is a town of a distinguished type
of privacy. It is the highest of the inhabited area
in Sinai. It is located at the top of a plateau that
rises to 1600m above the sea level, and it is
surrounded by a series of the highest mountains not
only in Sinai but in Egypt as a whole.
The highest of them are tops of Catherine, Moses and
AL- Safsafa mountains. Such a unique height provided
the location with a special type of climate.
It is moderate in summer and very cold in winter
which gives her a certain beauty when ice covers the
mountain tops. The area was announced a natural
Historically speaking St. Catherine is of great
importance and historic dimension. This added to its
religious importance when the monastery known by the
name of St. Catherine Monastery was built in the
16th century. It still remains as the greatest of
the Christian monument in Egypt and the world.
As it is distinguished in location, climate, history
and geography, this reflected on its present as it
is now considered a touristic location of special
type as well as an agrigal area due to its
underground water in the wells.
St. Catharine town is located at the heart land of
south Sinai at a distance of 300 km from Ahmed Hamdi
Tunnel. Its area is about 5130km2 and it is renowned
of its varied forms of tourism; religious, safari
and mountaineering. St. Catharine teems with
religious relics: the monastery, Mosas mountain and
prophet Haroun shrine. This is besides, several
touristic projects, and it is considered the biggest
protectorate area in Egypt.
St. Catherine Monastery open all year round but
on the Eastern & Christmas days.
In 330 A.D, Helena mother of Emperor Constantine
ordered a chapel to be built on the traditional site
of the burning bush. In 530A.D. Emperor Justinian
built the basilica, the Church of Transfiguration.
In 640 A.D, after the Arab conquest, the monastery
became an island of Christianity in the sea of
In 726 A.D, Emperor Leo III decreed that all images
of the Christianity communities be destroyed, but
due to its isolation, the monastery remained intact.
The walls are made of local red granite and are 85m
long, 75m wide and 11 to 15 m high.
It has several wells providing water, the most
important one is Moses' well, where Moses met
Jethro's daughter Zipporah, who became his wife.
Beyond the walls on the northwest side, the gardens
of the monastery are surrounded by cypress trees and
include grapevines and orchards of lemons, oranges,
olives, pears and apricots.
St. Catherine, whose name is given to the Monastery,
was born in Alexandria in 294 A.D. and was tortured
and beheaded for her Christian beliefs. One of the
monks of the Sinai had a vision about her body being
at the top of a nearby mountain, where her remains
were discovered. Mount Sinai, in the south, which
rises to 2,285 meters, is where God revealed the Ten
Commandments to Moses. A small church was built on
the peak in 1934. Mount Catherine is the highest
summit in Sinai, where on a clear day it is possible
to see the whole of the Sinai; a chapel, built by
Callisto, exists at the top.
Saint Catherine Monastery
The Monastery of St. Catherine is one of the
well-known monasteries in the world - a Greek
Orthodox holy place connected with the Prophet Moses
and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
The Monastery is famous for its Byzantine-style
basilica, which was built together with its
protective walls in 527 A.D. The basilica has three
naves, and its dazzlingly ornate interior contains
works of art spanning fifteen centuries.
St. Catherine Mountain
Among the more distinctive pieces
are the many lamps, which hang from the ceiling in a
silvery, glittering constellation and the impressive
mosaics. Lying next to the main altar is a
sarcophagus which allegedly holds the remains of St.
The buildings inside the monastery are crowded
together, each a different shape and size. They are
made up of mazes of small courtyards, staircases,
galleries and narrow corridors, vaulted arcades and
rounded arches. Adjacent to the monastery are the
bell tower and minaret of the mosque. Beyond the
walls on the northwest side, the gardens of the
monastery are surrounded by cypress trees and
include grapevines and orchards of lemons, oranges,
olives, pears and apricots.
The monastery is also famous for its library, which
by any standard is extraordinary. It contains the
largest collection of Christian manuscripts and
icons outside of the Vatican Museum. In 1844,a
German scholar visiting the library discovered
important 4th century version of the Bible that now
rests in the British Museum. Similar incidents
throughout the years have forced the monastery to
allow access only to visitors who have obtained
written permission from the Archbishop of Cairo.
St. Catherine's is still a functioning monastery,
and visitors can view the chapel as well as an
amazing collection of icons. Above all St.
Catherine's is a spectacular natural setting for
priceless works of art.
The route to the top is on foot, and the best time
to go is between October and May. For a comfortable
journey you will need sneakers, a bottle of water
and some candy. As the journey takes place during
the night, when it gets very cold, you will need a
jumper or a heavy jacket apart from a flashlight.
Treasures of St Catherine
The Church of transfiguration
The Church of Transfiguration is built in the shape
of a basilica and divided into the narthex, where a
collection of icons is exhibited, the main body of
the church, and the apsis with the altar. Among the
most impressive art work of 15 centuries are
chandeliers each decorated with the egg of an
ostrich and icons among them the famous iconostasis
presenting the huge icons of St. John the Baptist,
the Holy Virgin, Christ and St. Catherine. The
monastery's treasure is a 6th century mosaic showing
the transfiguration of Christ. Only the basilica is
open to today's visitors.
The Chapel of the Burning Bush
The Chapel of the Burning Bush is the sacred part of
the monastery. Once it contained the Burning Bush,
which is replaced outside of the chapel and fenced
behind a stone wall. Every Saturday the monks hold
their liturgy in the chapel. Anyone entering has to
remove his shoes as written in the bible: “…put off
thy shoes from off thy feet for the place whereon
thou stands is holy ground...” (Exodus 3:5)
The Bell Tower houses 9 bells of different sizes and
an ancient wooden bell. The wooden bell is used
daily, the metal bells are only heard on Sundays and
Caliph Hakim Mosque
The Mosque was built in 1106 during the era of
Caliph Hakim to protect the Monastery from the
unpredictable destructive passion of Caliph Hakim.
With the rise of Islam in Egypt in 640 the monastery
became an isolated Christian outpost in the desert.
Tradition has it that a delegation of monks visited
the Prophet Muhammad asking for his protection.
After his visit to the monastery he granted in a
document:” …. I shall be his protector against every
enemy… it is not allowed to move … a priest from his
religion, nor a hermit from his cell…”
The Library represents one of the richest
collections in the world. Out of 6000 manuscripts,
3000 are ancient, some of them older than the
monastery itself. Written in Greek, Arabic, Hebrew,
Syriac, Armenian Georgian, Coptic, Polish and
Slavic, the manuscripts deal with theological,
scientific, liturgical and historical issues.
The Codex Syriacus is a 5th century translation of
the Gospels in Syriac and the oldest translation of
the bible into any other language. It is the oldest
after the theft of the Codex Sinaiticus by von
Tischendorff in 1859. The Codex Sinaiticus dates
from the 4th century and shares with the Codex
Vaticanus to be the first copies of the Greek Bible.
Whereas the Codex Sinaiticus is more complete and
Controversies over what is fiction in the later
versions of the bible - related to the discovery
that the oldest gospels of Mark miss the treasured
biblical stories - will continue.
Mountain Moses also Mt. Horeb or Mount Sinai and
known with its Arabic name Gebel Mussa, is honored
by the three great monotheistic religions. The path
of Moses, Sikket Sayydna Mussa, starts in a gentle
slope and gets steep on the last bit where it ends
at the valley of Elijah. It is believed that God
appeared in fire to the prophet. The two chapels are
dedicated to Elijah.
The final steep climb leads over rocky steps to the
summit. Just below the summit in a natural hollow in
the granite the imprint of a camel's foot can be
made out. Bedouin tradition has it, that here is the
place where Prophet Muhammad started his night
journey to heaven. The magnificent view from the
summit is worthwhile the effort of a 3 hour long
climb to the top of Mt. Moses.
3600 steps skillfully arranged by a monk on penalty
- lead to the gate of Stephanos. Here he heard the
confessions of the pilgrims and giving them
absolution before letting them pass The steep way
down leads to points with extraordinary views,
always the smell of herbal plants and the chirping
birds at company.
Hotels in St. Catherine
Catherine Plaza Hotel
Tel: 069-347-0288/ 9
St. Catherine Tourist Village
Tel: 069-347-0323 14 16