I have travelled to many places, but the place that maybe made the biggest impact is seeing the sunrise from Mount Sinai and then climbing down to The Monastery of St. Katherine at the bottom of the mountain. That was in December 2010. A couple of weeks ago I read some disturbing news. The Egyptian security authorities had ordered the 1,500-year-old monastery to close for visitors. There were no more work for the Bedouin residents of the area and they were forced to sell their camels to feed their families.
This area in the desert, Mt. Sinai, were Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments from God, and the monastery, is sacred to all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also the third most visited tourist destination in Egypt, after the Pyramids and Luxor. These days we here stories from the northern Sinai about war between security forces and islamic groups. And burning and looting of churches from many places in Egypt. There have not been any assault on the Monastery of St. Katherine. Actually it has been protected for over 1400 years by the the Jebeliya Bedouins. They are muslim, and the monks living in the monastery are Orthodox Christians. In the monastery there is both a church and a mosque.
The Monastery of St. Katherine is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the World. According to the monaterys web site it was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, although there was already a church at the site of the Burning Bush erected by the Empress Helena in 330 AD. The monastery was under the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, under Arab and Turkish leaders and Napoleon, all of which helped to preserve it virtually undamaged during the centuries.
Both pilgrims and tourist often climb Mt. Sinai, also called the Moses mountain, to see the sunrise. That is climbing up in the dark, either by foot or a rented camel, then wait in the often freezing cold to see the sun rise. The area is not only a sacred place, but also a national park and Unesco World Heritage Site. I am not sure if it is possible to climb the mountain now. According to an Orthodox web site the bedouins and the monastery have problems anyway: “Through the arrest of the Pilgrims’ influx as well as that of the halting of the tourists’ arrivals, due to the broader crisis in the Middle East, the Monastery has been driven to such a total economic state of adversity that it is unable to cope with its traditional obligations towards its Bedouin workers as well as to continue its charitable work in favour of the Desert dwellers.” I am worried because I can’t return to this very interesting place, but the crisis in Egypt of course have much worse implications for the people living there. I hope for the best. I hope that all the anti-democratic and sectarian forces will soon be defeated, and for peace and prosperity to the people.
There are more pictures in my photo gallery from the Moses mountain and the monastery. And a lot more information about the mountians, the monastery and the bedouins at the St. Katherine information web site.