Sinai Peninsula Attractions
With an area of some 9,650sq.mi/25,000sq.km, it is roughly the same size as Sicily. Together with the strip of territory to the north extending along the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal to the Israeli frontier it forms the Sinai Frontier District, with a total area of almost 19,300sq.mi/50,000sq.km.
Sinai is a scantily populated region consisting mainly of steppe and desert, with cultivable land only in the northern coastal strip and a few small oases; but its rugged mountain country, with its picturesque rock scenery, remote valleys and magnificent and constantly changing views, forms one of the most spectacular and impressive landscapes in Egypt.Northern Sinai is an undulating table land of Cretaceous and Tertiary limestones and sandstones, rising gradually from north to south and reaching heights of about 3,900ft/1,200m in the Gebel el-Tih Range, which is dissected by the widely ramifying (and at certain points cultivable) Wadiel-Arish.The Sinai Frontier District has a population of some 180,000, including an estimated 50,000 bedouin, some of whom are said to be descended from the 200 Roman and Egyptian slaves presented to St Catherine's Monastery by its founder, the Emperor Justinian. The major settlements in Sinai are on its coasts: in the north El-Arish and Gaza on the Mediterranean and the ports of Suez and El-Tor on the Gulf of Suez, in the extreme south Sharm el-Sheikh (Ras Nasrany) and, at the north end of the Gulf of Aqaba, the Jordanian port of Aqaba and the Israeli holiday resort of Eilat (Elat).The mineral resources of this inhospitable region, which include manganese, copper and phosphates, have recently been substantially augmented by the discovery of large reserves of oil and natural gas on the west side of the peninsula.HistoryFrom the earliest times (7000-3300 B.C.) nomadic peoples ranged over the Sinai Peninsula, and the northern coastal strip was already of the greatest importance in PreDynastic times as a link between Egypt and Palestine or Syria and a major commercial and military route (the later Via Maris of the Romans) along the Mediterranean. The copper of western Sinai was already much sought after by the Pharaohs of the first Dynasty, and in later periods was frequently the occasion of bloody conflicts with the bedouin. Malachite and turquoise mined in Sinai filled the treasuries of Memphis. The peninsula also enjoyed great religious veneration in ancient Egypt: here, it was believed, Isis had sought the corpse of her husband Osiris; and Hathor was known as the "Mistress of Sinai".The "Sinai Inscriptions" (more than 30 rock inscriptions in a Cananaean script) which was a forerunner of our present alphabetic script were found in the old malachite-mines of the Wadi Maghara and the ruins of the Temple of Hathor at Serabit el-Khadim in 1868 and from 1927 onwards. The mines are now, with a few exceptions, totally worked out.We lack precise evidence on the Sinai of the Old Testament. It has not been possible to establish exactly where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, nor is it certain that the Mount Horeb on which Moses received the Tables of the Law was really Mount Sinai: there are good reasons for believing that this lay east of the Gulf of Aqaba. Pilgrimages to Sinai, as one of the holy places of the Old Testament, are attested from the third C. Veneration for this area led many hermits and monks to settle in southern Sinai, forming communities and living lives of great poverty and sanctity. They were exposed to bloody raids by Saracens, and it was to provide protection against these attacks that, in the mid sixth C., Justinian built a fortified monastery with a church dedicated to the Virgin, in the immediate vicinity of the legendary site of Moses's burning bush.Although the Crusades ravaged much of Sinai, in particular the coastal towns, the holy places on Mount Sinai remained undisturbed. After several rebuildings and enlargements Justinian's monastery was dedicated in the 12th C. to St Catherine of Alexandria, a Saint much venerated by the Orthodox Church. Legend asserts that after her martyrdom her body was deposited on the hill named after her, Gebel Katerin. Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca also visited the holy place, receiving hospitality in the monastery, in which a small mosque was built for their use.During the recurrent wars between Egypt and the State of Israel part of the Sinai Peninsula was occupied by the Israelis in 1948 and the whole of it in 1956 and 1968 (the Six Day War). The Camp David Agreements of 1979 provided for the phased return of the peninsula to Egypt, and the process was completed in 1982.The main center of attraction in the Sinai Peninsula is St Catherine's Monastery, where there is now an airport (Mount Sinai Airport) served by scheduled flights from Cairo and from Israel. A longer and more strenuous but very rewarding route is by road from Suez, following the line of an old caravan route.
Completed in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, ultimately leading to the Indian Ocean. It was a huge undertaking and is 171km in length.
Located on the Gulf of Aqaba the resort town of Nuweiba is a small piece of paradise. Fine beaches, comfortable hotels, and an assortment of restaurants make this town a popular destination. The town is dominated by several large resorts including the Hilton Nuweiba Coral Resort. Nuweiba is a favorite destination for scuba divers as the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea contain abundant coral and fish species.
The southern part of the peninsula is Bedouin camp in the Sinai Peninsula occupied by the great massif of Mount Sinai, built up of archaic crystalline rocks (gneiss, granite, porphyry, metamorphic schists). Its highest peaks, Gebel Katerin (8,668ft/2,642m), Gebel Musa (7,497ft/2,285m) and Gebel Serbal (6,749ft/2,057m), reach up almost to the line of eternal snow and ice. Throughout their long geological history these majestic peaks have escaped all tectonic change, though in the course of millions of years the Red Sea coast along the foot of the massif has acquired a broad fringe of coral reefs, which are still continuing to grow.
The dispute between Egypt and Israel over the Taba enclave, 8km/5mi southwest of Elat, was settled in 1989. This strip of land covering an area of 1 sq.km/250 acres, with a luxury hotel and a holiday village, now belongs to Egypt. The nude bathing which was formerly common here is now banned. For a trip to Taba and farther along the Sinai peninsula regard must be had to the Egyptian entry regulations.
Dahab is located on the south side of the Sinai Peninsula. This small town is a well-known diving destination and popular with tourists for windsurfing and horseback riding.
Ras Mohammed National Park
Ras Mohammed National Park is located on two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, with underground caves, a mangrove forest, diverse habitat, and a marine reserve. The reserve was set up in 1983 to protect marine and land animals.