A Day Trip to St Catherine’s MonasteryBy
One of the many interesting places to visit on a day trip from the seaside resorts in the Sinai is St Catherine’s Monastery. This UNESCO site lies right in the centre of the Sinai Peninsula high up in the mountains and dates back to the 5th century. The story of St Catherine is that she was a Christian from Alexandria. Her father had raised her as a pagan but as well as converting herself to Christianity, Catherine also converted among others, a Roman emperor’s wife. According to the story, after her death angels transported Catherine’s body to Mount Sinai and it is her that the Monastery was established and it is the oldest working Christian Monastery in the world. Around 25 monks live there and Orthodox pilgrims are able to stay overnight here.
If you plan to visit the St Catherine’s, you need to be aware that it is only open for a few hours in the morning. At midday, it closes its doors and visitors aren’t allowed in. However, this isn’t a problem as a number of excursions arrive here around 2am. This allows people to take the 3hr climb up the footpath to the top of Mount Sinai to see the spectacular sun rise. After that, they descend and visit the Monastery.
There are a number of little shops around the car park and visitors are swamped by people trying to sell books and all sorts of souvenirs. The walk up to the Monastery from the car park is a couple of hundred yards but you do have the option to ride a camel up there. The slope isn’t too challenging so we chose to walk. As it turned out, the biggest problem was a series of locals trying to sell us books and other assorted tat.
The Monastery itself its fascinating, Inside the main building you will find a typical Orthodox place of worship with numerous icons. Photos may not be taken inside the Monastery building and both men and women are required to cover legs and arms out of respect when entering. Once outside, you can see the ‘Burning Bush’ which is mentioned in the Bible and to be on the safe side, there is a fire extinguisher next to it. After the tour of the St Catherine’s is over, it is recommended that you make the short climb up the hill opposite to get a wonderful panoramic view of the Monastery and gardens.
Excursions to St Catherine’s operate most days from the resorts of Taba, Nuweiba and Sharm el Sheikh. There are variations on the itinerary to suit with some leaving early to see the sun rise while others depart just after breakfast and also include a visit to Dahab for something to eat and a bit of shopping.