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    Saint Catherine    
Saint Catherine Monastery Saint Catherine Monastery
Photo by Victor Kondos © 2009 Your Egypt

The Monastery:
Saint Catherine is a monastery that is set on a site believed to be the place where God delivered His Ten Commandments to Moses and the place of the burning bush.

The monastery was initially founded by Empress Helena (mother of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Christian emperor) at the site of the burning bush.

The present basilica was built by orders of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD who fortified the place with walls to protect monks against raiding Bedouins. This enclosed Helena's first chapel. In the 11th century the mosque was added to the monastery probably by stern Moslem rulers.

   
Image 1
The monastery takes its name from an Egyptian Christian martyr called Saint Catherine. She was born in Alexandria at the end of the 3rd century of a wealthy powerful family. The well-educated youth converted to Christianity and publicly declared her faith at the time of Roman Emperor Maximinus. Maximinus, however, had her tortured and finally beheaded her. As tradition tells, her body vanished and was transported by angels to the site of the monastery where monks, guided by a vision found her body few centuries later, so they buried her in a basilica that bears her name.

Despite being isolated, the monastery is one of the major tourist attractions. There are restrictions on visits since the monastery is still functioning so some parts of the monastery are not accessible to visitors.
It is currently managed by Greek Orthodox monks who are actually very few in number.

   
Image 2
The basilica:
Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian. The main building are the original one but the ceiling, floor, iconstasis date to the 17th-18th century. The narthexWhat does it mean? has interesting display of part of the monastery's icons.
The monastery's rich library has very rare books and manuscripts but unfortunately inaccessible to the public and only experts can access it by petitioning monks in charge.

Mount Sinai (Gabal Musa):
Mount Sinai is often called as Gabal Musa (or Mount Moses). It is 2285 meters (7500 ft) high. You can climb this mountain, as it's really very interesting and adventurous. Begin your hike 3 hours before sunset (2-3 am) in order to catch sunset at the summit and you'd better take a torch, as parts of the mounting routes are difficult.

   
Image 3
There are two routes leading to the apex: the camel trail and the Steps of Repentance. The camel trail is recommended for climbing, as it is easier and the latter for descending. It will take you almost two hours to get to the summit and you'll usually find refreshment stands on your way up.

Whether on summer or winter, take heavy winter clothes to wear them at the summit because it's getting extremely cold up there even in the hot summer. Take sufficient food and drinks also. However try to avoid heat of the day as you climb the mountain.

You can take a sleeping bag if you want to take a rest, as there is no space to pitch a tent, nevertheless it won't be easy to sleep with much frequent crowds. On the summit also there is a small Greek Orthodox chapel built in 1930s but it is usually closed.

The Steps of Repentance are recommended for descending. The steps were laid by a pious monk who pledged repentance. The steps are precipitous so take care.
On your way down the steps you'll find a site marked by a 500-year-old cypress tree. It's where Biblical Prophet Elijah heard the voice of God (See Lithograph 3).

Mount Catherine (Gabal Katreen):
Reaching the height of 2650 meters (8700 feet), Mount Catherine is the highest peak in Egypt. It is steeper than Mount Sinai but challenging and the path is better. At the mountain's peak there is the site where remains of Saint Catherine were found.

   
Lithograph 1
Lithograph 2
Lithograph 3

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