St Catherine's Monastery
Duration: Half Day
If you get the chance to explore the beautiful Sinai Peninsula during your holiday in Egypt, one of the most interesting landmarks in the region is the legendary Monastery of St Catherine. Steeped in history, it is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in existence and the smallest diocese in the world. This fascinating excursion includes a guided tour of the working monastery and its beautiful religious icons, as well as a visit to the reputed site of the famous ‘Burning Bush’, through which God spoke to Moses.
Marvel at the spectacular scenery as we cross the beautiful Sinai Desert, passing traditional Bedouin tents and villages before reaching the fortified St Catherine Monastery (Monastery of Santa Katarina) at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This historic building is located at the foot of Mount Sinai (or Mount Moses), whose summit is believed to be the sacred site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, as recorded in the Old Testament. Built in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian to protect the monks in the region (who were often under attack by the Saracens) and to honour the traditional site of the Burning Bush, the monastery is a defining feature of the Holy Land. This is the region through which Moses is said to have led his people to the Promised Land.
The monastery's original name is the Monastery of the Transfiguration, although it is commonly known as St Catherine’s after being dedicated to the early Christian martyr St. Catherine in the 11th century. Catherine was imprisoned by the Emperor Maxentius and later tortured to death for criticising his persecution of Christians. According to legend, angels carried her deceased body to Mount Sinai where she was laid to rest. Her remains, which were reportedly found by monks on a mountain peak next to Mount Sinai around 800, are buried in the monastery's Basilica.
The entire area surrounding St Catherine’s Monastery is sacred to three of the world’s religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – and is one of the most important centres of religious pilgrimage in the world. For this reason, St. Catherine's was dedicated an UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect its beautiful historic architecture and art.
Inside, the monastery houses an outstanding collection of early religious icons which date from the 6th to the 19th centuries. Among its treasures is one of the largest and most important collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world, as well as priceless early Christian art, exquisite wall hangings and many other awe-inspiring relics that portray the incredible talents of artists over the centuries. The value of this collection is believed to be second only to the Vatican’s. Close by, you will also see the Chamber of the Skulls, which houses the skulls of deceased monks, and the 6th century Chapel of the Burning Bush, which was reputedly constructed at the site where Moses witnessed the miracle recorded in the Old Testament. This is one of the most important pilgrim destinations for Christians in Egypt and around the world.
On the way back to Taba we will stop for lunch at Nuweiba on the eastern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Known as ‘the pearl of the Gulf of Aqaba’, this relaxed coastal town is surrounded by sandy beaches and rugged mountains and is one of the most attractive resorts on the coast. Here you can enjoy free time to relax in the sun and swim in crystalline blue waters before returning to your hotel in the late afternoon.
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