Basing yourself at Egypt’s stunning coastal resort of Sharm el Sheikh this winter? Many of you will plan your Sharm el Sheikh holidays around the undersea shipwrecks and shifting coral habitats that make this part of the Sinai Peninsula such a hit with the scuba diving and snorkelling community. However, set aside a few days to explore the surrounding area, and you’ll find a few gems of the land-based kind.
St Catherine’s Monastery, or Santa Katarina, is one of the most-visited sites in the region and with its dramatic position, nestled at the base of Mount Sinai, plus its religious significance to many people, it’s not surprising. At around three and a half hours inland from Sharm, it’s a historic day – or overnight – trip worth taking.
St Catherine’s Monastery – why go?
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the chapel, church and fortified walls you can see at St Catherine’s today date from the 4th to the 5th centuries and they were partly built on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Moreover, almost 3,000 years of history connect this ornate complex to the stories of Moses, an important figure for Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
It’s said that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God at the top of Mount Sinai and the chapel at St Catherine’s Monastery is actually built on the site of the Burning Bush, where Moses is claimed to have first heard the voice of God.
What to see
Of course, most make a beeline for the Burning Bush (a thorn bush relocated when the chapel was built and said to be descended from the original) once inside the monastery complex. The Chapel of the Burning Bush itself isn’t always open to visitors, but stop for a look at the 19th century bell tower with its Neo-Classical stonework.
Further in, the Byzantine basilica of St Catherine’s Church looms against its mountain backdrop, while gold-tinged murals decorate the interior ceilings with Bible scenes: for many this is the highlight of the experience.
Spend some time exploring the unshakeable, early Medieval walls, stroll the Gothic arcades and examine the illuminated manuscripts and icons of the Monastery Museum and you’ll find there are plenty more treasures to be discovered.
The mountain at Sinai can also be ascended via the same route that Moses supposedly took to the top. Whether you’re a believer or not, the ruined chapels alongside the stone steps and the jaw-dropping views of the surrounding desert peaks are a sight to see.
Plan your trip
Mount Sinai and St Catherine’s Monastery are available as day tours from Sharm el Sheikh, as well as nearby Red Sea resorts like Hurghada. You can usually organise one to pick you up from your hotel and guides are often included to take you around the site and relate the history of the buildings. Sunrise and sunset tours are a popular option for climbing Mount Sinai when it’s bathed in spectacular natural light.
Is St Catherine’s Monastery on your bucket list? Check out our range of Sharm el Sheikh holidays to start planning your Sinai trip…