Mount Sinai (Arabic جبل موسَى Gebel Musa) is in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt and rises 2,285 metres above sea level. The mountains is a sacred site for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The mountain is also a holy site for Muslims, who consider this to be the place from where the prophet Muhammed started his journey to heaven on the winged horse Buraq.
ClimateDaytime temperatures vary from mild to warm around the year. However, nighttime temperatures are considerably lower. Precipitation is negligible through most of the year.
The closest airport with passenger traffic is in Sharm el-Sheikh, and your only choice of transport is by road. Dahab is 2 hours and 133 km away, Nuweiba is 120 km and a similar 2 hours away, while the trip from Sharm el-Sheikh (230 km) is closer to 3 hours. Most visitors arrive on tours that arrive at approximately 1AM at the foot of the mountain in order to climb Mount Sinai overnight and watch the sunrise. Any guesthouse in Sinai can arrange for you to join a tour. There are also several camps, guesthouses and hotels in St. Catherine that can accommodate tourists and travellers alike.
To arrive from Dahab or Nuweiba, you can use the Bedouin Bus running twice weekly services to each destination for LE50 (Apr 2016). From Cairo, the East Delta Bus Company leaves the new Cairo Gateway station daily at 11AM and takes about 7 hours. The cost is LE75 (Apr 2016), and the schedule for this bus is also available at the Bedouin Bus home page.
Public buses arrive at the monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai. From there it's about 2 km to the St. Catherine Village, also known as el-Milga.
A taxi from Dahab or Nuweiba can cost around LE200 (Dec 2011).
The monastery got its current form between 548 and 564 when the East Roman emperor Justinian I according to the wishes of the monks built the fortification and stationed a force to protect the monastery. Some of the monks still opted to continue living outside the walls. During this period the main church of the site was constructed. A century later, the remains of Catherine of Alexandria was found at the nearby mountain nowadays known as Mount Catherine. She was the daughter of a Cypriot king who refused to abandon her faith and to marry the pagan Roman emperor Maxentius and was therefore tortured and beheaded in 305. The remains were brought to the monastery, which was also renamed after her.
Also the future prophet Muhammed visited the monastery several times, and later on he guaranteed the protection of the monastery. Only in the 11th century the caliph Al-Hakim threatened to destroy the monastery, and between the 15th and 18th centuries the monks were indeed expelled numerous times but the monastery itself was never destroyed.
1575 the monastery was declared independent from Rome, at that time St. Catherine was the site of an archdiocese. Later on, under the guardianship of the Russian czar, a Greek-Orthodox monastery was established. Nowadays the monastery is juridically a part of the patriarchate of Jerusalem.
However today's visitors will use the newer gate, at the northern side of the complex. When entering, you will see the monks' housing building at the right-hand site. Straight ahead stands the main church — the .
Built in the mid-6th century, this basilica features inscriptions about emperor Justinian, empress Theodora I, as well as the church's architect Stephanos of Aila. The doors are made of cedar and are decorated with various ornaments. The three main sections of the church are demarcated by twelve granite pillars and have three chapels each, named after saints. The sacristy and the treasure room make up the rest of the church. The tower of the church is comparatively new, constructed only in 1871.
Iconostases and mosaics from several epochs can be seen in the church. The most famous of them is the Mosaic of the Transfiguration. Overall St.Catherine possesses a collection of some 2000 icons. At the right-hand side of the altar there's the marble shrine containing the relics of St. Catherine. The holiest place is the , located behind the choir. It was constructed in the 13th century at the place where, according to the Book of Exodus, Moses was instructed by God to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.
In the northwest of the complex you'll find the ; the spring that supplies water to the monastery and, according to legend, the location where Moses met his wife for the first time. Next to it, the Monastery museum, showing icons, writings, equipment used for services as well as gifts given by pilgrims.
At the west side there's the from the 12th century, with a minaret north of the mosque itself.
Outside the walls, on the western side, there's a garden, cemetery and . The latter is a morbid charnel house containing the skulls of 1400 years' worth of monks who have lived and died here.
Fees and hours
In Feb 2011, there were only a few parts of the monastery which are accessible to tourists.
There is also a small museum mainly about Byzantine icons and tempera on wood. You must make a LE25 donation as entrance fee but it is worth it.
A guide for the monastery could start at LE100 but you could/must bargain.
Nowadays about two dozen, mostly Greek, monks live at the monastery. They elect the abbot and archbishop, who mostly lives in Cairo. At the time he isn't present, four caretakers are performing his functions.
The main service takes place from 4:30 to 7:30AM, while the vesper takes place from 2:30-4PM. In order to keep up the normal functions of the monastery, visitors are only allowed in between 9AM and noon. On Friday, Sunday and Greek Orthodox holidays it is entirely closed. Yearly some 100,000 people visit the monastery, which means that it can get quite crowded during the opening hours. Entrance is free, but the museum charges you LE20.
However to enter the protected area, to which also the monastery belongs there's a fee of LE17 for adults and LE10 for students.
A local guide is required despite the fact the trails are well signposted once you get onto them. Starting price at the entrance LE110 (Apr 2016) but bargain it. In daytime, which is less popular, the fee is lower.
Note that it will be much cooler at the summit than on the coast, and in the winter subzero temperatures at night and even snow are not unknown. Dress warmly in layers, a flashlight is also a must. Blankets and mattresses can be rented at the top for ~LE10 per piece, however, their state of cleanliness may be objectionable.
There are two routes to choose from, entrances to which are rather poorly signposted, so choose carefully especially if climbing at night. Both paths lead to natural amphitheater known as Elijah's Hollow or the Seven Elders of Israel, where you'll find a teahouse for a break. From there, it's a final 750 steps (30 minutes) to reach the summit.
- Steps of Penitence. This aptly named steep path has been quite literally carved out of the rock by monks, and with 3750 steps to climb is the shorter but more challenging of the two. No mountain-climbing equipment required though, just strong thighs, and the views back down into the valley are superb even in the middle of the night. If the sky is clear the stars above can also be a spellbinding sight, as there are no major cities for miles and miles around. The route can be climbed in as little as 45 minutes, or as long as three hours, depending on your pace.
- Camel Path (Siket El Bashait). A gentler, winding, wide path that snakes its way up to the summit that can be completed by the average traveler in 2½ hours. As you can guess from the name, you can also climb up this way on the back of camel, and the "sawdust" that appears to coat much of the length of the path is in fact dried camel byproducts from the many trips before you. Be warned that the camel will bite you if it doesn't like you, so be nice, and a 3-hour ride up a mountain — going on foot is actually faster for most people — may not be the easiest introduction to the notoriously swaying gait of these camels. You'll also have to dismount about a kilometer before you reach the top and cover the last 700 steps on foot. Take care at the top also, as the surface is uneven.
At the top you will find a small chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity, constructed in 1934 on the ruins of an older 16th-century church. Better yet, if you timed your ascent right, you can see the sunrise over the parched, rocky expanse of the Sinai.
The intense silence of the mountain as well as its spiritual history makes it a popular spot for yoga and meditation groups. The local 'Gebeliya' Bedouin also run silent retreats for visitors, as well as trekking trips Sheikh Mousa.
Climbing Mount Catherine(جبل كاترين Ǧabal Kāt(a)rīn) is a few kilometers southwest of Mount Sinai and is with 2637m the highest mountain in the Sinai and in all of Egypt. The relics of Saint Catherine were found at this mountain, and due to this discovery the monastery and the mountain were renamed.
The trek starts at the monastery, crosses the plain of el-Milga past Aaron's chapel, the monastery of the holy apostle and the pavilion of king Fuad. After an hour of walking you'll reach the (دير الاربعين Dair al-Arbaʿīn). From here, there is a four-hour climb to the summit, where you'll find the chapel of St. Catherine. Inside the chapel, a rug marks the place where the relics were found.
FansinaSelema Galaby, a local Bedouin woman, has set up an exquisite craft shop in the village of St Catherine. Fansina employs more than 350 local tribeswomen to make traditional hand-woven handicrafts.
Bedouin CraftAnother, small-scale, local entrepreneur in the traditional handicraft business.
Moreover you can buy souvenirs and necessities in the shops in el-Milga.
Eat & drink
- You can get food at any of the camps/guesthouses in town and there are some small restaurants opposite the mosque and near the petrol station.
- The monastery's hostel serves breakfast, but charges LE10 for an egg, a slice of bread with fig jam and a tea bag if you're not spending the night. There is a café in the garden of the guesthouse, which is open to the public.
- In the village el-Milga there are several restaurants and a bakery.
phone: +20 100 641 3575A camp with five double rooms, washing machine.
phone: +20 6 9347 0344The most affordable accommodation in the area.
Olive Garden Campphone: +20 111 759 8464Right in the middle of the village lies Olive Garden Camp, a small cosy camp dotted with young olive trees. For more info ask Ramadan at Mohamed Salem restaurant opposite the mosque.
Hotels and guesthouses
phone: +20 69 3470 457address: El MilgaTraditional Bedouin-style guesthouse, owned and run by Bedouins. Bedouin Camp has room for 64 people; 9 double en-suite rooms, 12 doubles with shared facilities and 3 dorm rooms. There is even space for camping. There is a laundry service, luggage storage, international telephone & fax facilities and the camp has free wifi.
phone: +20 02 7486712Two-star hotel with 74 double rooms.
Hotel Al-Wadi Al-Mouquddusphone: +20 69 3470 225Two-star hotel with 81 double rooms.
phone: +20 69 3470295Three-star hotel with 150 double rooms, 16 triple rooms and two suites.
phone: +20 69 34 70 700Three-star hotel with 230 double rooms.
phone: +20 069 3470353Price includes breakfast and dinner
St.Catherine Tourist Villagephone: +20 69 347 0325address: Wadi El Raha, St. CatherineFour-star hotel with 118 double rooms.
There are a few options:
By bus to Cairo: East Delta has a daily bus going to Cairo, leaving at 6AM from the bus station just behind the mosque.
By minibus to Dahab: Bedouin Bus runs a twice weekly bus service to Dahab on Tuesday and Friday. Buses leave at 11AM from the parking next to the bakery (opposite the mosque) and cost LE50 one way. The bus stops in Dahab at Hotel Jowhara (Mashraba street) and Marine Garden Camp (Lighthouse area)
By minibus to Nuweiba: Bedouin Bus runs a twice weekly bus service to Nuweiba on Wednesday and Sunday. Buses leave at 8AM from the parking next to the bakery (opposite the mosque) and cost LE50 one way. The bus stops at Nuweiba Port (opposite the East Delta bus station) and at Nuweiba City (at the hospital).
By minibus to El Tor: There are daily mini buses (except Friday) to El Tor, the governorate capital. Buses leave from the parking opposite the mosque in St. Catherine at 7:30AM and 2:30PM and return at 2:30PM and 8PM respectively to St. Catherine.