St Catherine's Monastery Deir Sant Katerin
The world famed St Catherine's Monastery lies at an altitude of some 4,925ft/1,500m in the Wadi Shuaiba (or Wadi el-Deir, "Monastery Valley"), at the foot of the steep granite walls of Gebel Musa (Mount of Moses; 7,497ft/2,285m), also known as Mount Sinai. According to tradition this was the site of the well at which Moses watered the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro and the spot where he saw the burning bush.
Useful tips: ACCESS. Air services from Cairo and from Israel to Mount Sinai Airport; transfer from there by Egyptian companies. By road from Suez to the Airport (see under Sinai); from there transfer by Egyptian companies.
The Church of the Transfiguration at St Catherine's Monastery is noted for its fine marble pulpit from the late 18th C, and its imposing bell tower that rings 33 times each morning.
Opposite the Church of the Transfiguration is a simple mosque with a separate minaret, built in the 12th C. on the site of an earlier sixth C. guest house, for the use of Muslim travelers.
The monastery Library is one of the largest and most interesting collections of Arabic and Turkish writing in existence, most of it not properly arranged. The large numbers of valuable old manuscripts (more than 2,000) also include works in Greek, Syriac, Persian, Amharic and Russian. The library's most valuable possession, now in the British Museum, was the Codex Sinaiticus, a Greek text of the Bible dating from about A.D. 400 which was found by the German scholar Konstantin von Tischendorf in 1844. The monastery also has a valuable Treasury (gold and silver articles), individual items that are displayed in the museum beyond the library.
Outside the monastery walls, to the northwest, are the beautiful monastery gardens, shaded by tall cypresses, which have their finest show of blossom in March and April. The gardens are laid out in terraces and well watered, and in addition to the flowers produce a variety of fruit and vegetables. Also outside the walls can be seen the pilgrims' cemetery and, in the crypt of St Tryphon's Chapel, the charnel house, which is also the place of burial of the monks.
Mount of Moses
A very rewarding expedition from the monastery is the ascent of Gebel Musa, the Mount of Moses (7,497ft/ 2,285m), on which Moses is said to have received from God the Tables of the Law. There are two main routes, the more strenuous of which is the pilgrims' route, believed to have been established as early as the sixth C., which involves climbing some 2,500 steps, passing on the way the simple Chapel of St Elias (Elijah; 6,880ft/2,097m). The alternative route is by way of the unfinished Abbas Pasha Road. For those who feel unable to tackle the ascent on foot there is also the possibility of hiring a camel. Whichever method is chosen the trip takes at least 3 hours there and back.
Typical Visit: 3 hours
Chapel and Mosque
On the summit of the mountain are a small chapel (built in 1930 on the site of an earlier chapel which had been destroyed) and a small mosque which is much revered by Muslims. At the northeast corner of the crag on which the chapel stands visitors are shown a hollow in which Moses stood when God appeared to him. Beside the mosque is a cistern like cavity in which, according to Muslim tradition, Moses lived for 40 days, fasting, while writing down the Law on two tablets.
Hill of the Willow
From a level area planted with cypresses half-way between the monastery and Gebel Musa an easy path (45minutes) runs between two lush green depressions (in the first of which is an old Chapel of St John the Baptist) to the foot of Ras el-Safsaf ("Hill of the Willow"), with a ruined Chapel of the Virgin's Girdle. Here visitors are shown the ancient willows from which Moses is said to have cut his rod. The first part of the ascent of Ras el-Safsaf (6542ft/1994 m) is facilitated by rock-cut steps, but the ascent beyond this is for experienced climbers only.
Before reaching the mouth of this Wadi el-Leja, in the Wadi el-Raha, visitors are shown the spot where Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16) and the cavity in the rock in which the golden calf was cast.
Another rewarding excursion is to the Wadi el-Leja, which flanks the west side of Gebel Musa and contains many places revered as sacred and visited by pilgrims.At the entrance to the Wadi el-Leja, on the right, are the ruins of the huts in which SS. Cosmas and Damian lived as hermits and a chapel dedicated to the Apostles but never used; on the left is the ruined Monastery of El-Bustan.
Typical Visit: 4 hours
Stone of Moses
Beyond the Monastery of El-Bustan can be seen the Stone of Moses, from which Moses drew water by striking it with his rod (Numbers 20: 8 ff.). It is a 12ft/3.6m high block of reddish brown granite (about 120 cu. yd/100 cu. m), divided into two parts by a 16in/40cm thick vein of porphyry on the south side. The water is said to have flowed from 12 cavities in the porphyry, one for each of the tribes of Israel (two of the cavities are now missing). On the rock are a number of Sinaitic inscriptions.
Monastery of the Forty Martyrs
Some 1.5mi/2km south of the Stone of Moses is the Deir el-Arbain, the Monastery of the Forty Martyrs (killed by the Saracens). It is an unpretentious building with a large garden; in the rocky upper part of which is a spring, and near this a cave in which St Onuphrius is said to have lived as a hermit. The monastery was abandoned in the 17th C., but is still occasionally occupied by a few monks.
St Catherine's Mount
The ascent of Gebel Katerin, St Catherine's Mount (8,668ft/2,642m), is more strenuous than that of Gebel Musa, requiring a full day. The route to the summit from the Deir el-Arbain is marked by cairns set up by pilgrims. There are three peaks Gebel-Katerin, the highest summit in the Sinai Peninsula, Gebel-Sebir and Gebel-Abu Rumel. It can be very cold on the top, and snow lies in crevices in the rock right into summer. On the summit are a modest little chapel and some irregularities in the ground, explained by the monks as the marks left by St Catherine's body, which is said to have lain here after her execution for 300 (some say 500) years before being revealed by the light radiating from it. From the summit there are magnificent I views, interrupted only by the massive bulk of Gebel Umm Shomar (8,449ft/2,575m) to the southwest. To the southeast can be seen the broad Wadi Nasib and the Gulf of Aqaba, the Arabian Mountains and, in good weather, Ras Muhammad at the southern tip of Sinai. To the west and southwest is the arid El-Qaa Plain, ending at El-Tor. To the north rear up to the peaks of Gebel Serbal and Gebel el-Banat, and farther north can be seen the light-colored sandy plain of El-Ramle and the long ridge of Gebel el-Tih.