Saint Catherine City is one of the popular tourist attractions not only in South Sinai but also in Egypt for its great religious value. This area that dates back to the 14th century locates at the foot of Moses Mountain or Gabal Musa in Sinai and encloses more than 200 religious places. Worth visiting in this area are Saint Catherine Monastery, the basilica that dates back to the 6th century, and the Mosque which was constructed in the Fatimid period.
For a long period, it was inhabited by monks and Bedouins and this justifies the existence of such great number of monasteries and religious places. Nowadays, it is inhabited by Bedouin tribes and most of them are Muslims. Due to its great religious and touristic value, it is provided with all amenities and comforts that attract people and tourists to it like education services, hospitals, and police stations. It also comprises of a large number of areas such as El Raha, and El Milga that was regarded as a meeting point where pastoral Arab tribes who move from place to place can meet annually.
Saint Catherine Natural Park
The Saint Catherine (Katherine) Protected Area is a heavenly reserve in South Sinai stretching over an area of 5.745 km2. It was declared a national park in 1996 and has since been managed by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). The conservation of the site and the unique natural and cultural values was a primary goal in the declaration of the park. The park comprises of the highest series of peaks in Egypt including: Saint Catherine, Musa, Serbal, Umm Shomer (Chomir) and Tarbush Mounts). Daily, the reserve receives a growing number of visitors which expands the tourist industry in South Sinai. The area is blessed with some of the oldest rock formations in the world, some are 545 million years old. Conserving the biological diversity, the reserve houses a great diversity of unique wild species such as the Asian rose finch, European ibex and wolfs, African striped hyena as well as different species of snakes (such as the Sinai Banded Snake and the Innes Cobra).
The park is home to a great variety of endangered insects and wild animals, such as the Nubian ibex, Dorcas gazelle, Panther pardus jarvisi, Red fox, and Sinai Leopard, as well as different unique reptiles and birds. It also conserves many scattered orchards, medical herbs and over 900 species of various rare plants. Visitors can choose between different activities to practice in this protected area. One can trek through the mountains' peaks; camp in any of the camping areas and sit around fire by night; site in a quiet place under the shadow of a palm tree by day; watch rare animals and birds in their unspoiled natural environment; or even get some herbal treatment in a clean quiet environment. Under Law 102 of 1983 declared by Prime Ministerial decree, it is prohibited to remove anything from its original place, whether a rock, plant or animal since everything plays an indispensable role in this complex ecosystem.
The Convent of Nuns
The Convent of Nuns is located in Wadi (valley) Firan. It has a new church built on the ruins of an ancient one. The surrounding mountains appear in an enchanting view due to the great diversity of colors and shapes there.
The Monastery of Saint Catherine
A scared site for Christians and Muslims, the Monastery of Saint Catherine was built by Emperor Justinian I in 527. The site was associated with Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Tradition says that her relics were transported to the monastery by angels. These relics were purportedly carried around the year 800. At the Arab conquest of Egypt, Prophet Muhammad gave the monastery a document guaranteeing protection. The Fatimid also built a mosque inside the monastery, so that the Muslim Bedouins would abstain from attacking the monastery; yet, the mosque was never used. For purposes of protection, the monastery was surrounded by massive walls and fortifications. These walls of 2.5 m wide and 11m high were provided by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. The walls are made of huge dressed granite blocks except for the upper sections, which are built of sandstone. Until the 20th century, access into the monastery was through a door high in the outer walls. Today, the entrance is through a smaller gate to the left of the main gate. The complex of the monastery includes an Orthodox Church, a library, a mosque as well as a museum. Also comprised inside it is a well called the 'Well of Moses' that provides fresh water coming from an underground spring. Outside the monastery, there is a garden, cultivated by the monks side by side with a cemetery and a charnel house, where the bones of the monks are deposited.
- The Library of the Monastery of Saint Catherine
The library of the Monastery of St. Catherine preserves the second largest collection of early codices and priceless manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. In fact, the library has over 3000 Greek, Coptic, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian, and Syrian manuscripts and over 5000 valuable early religious books. The Codex Sinaiticus– which is a manuscript that contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament– was preserved in the monastery until the 19th century, when it was moved to Russia, then to the British Library. In addition, the library contains a big collection of more than 2000 valuable Christian icons in a special gallery.
- The Chapel of the Burning Bush
The most sacred place in the monastery is the Chapel of the Burning Bush. It was built by Helena, the mother of Constantine I, at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the 'Burning Bush'. Although it belongs to a rare species of the rose family called Rubus Sanctus, the bush is native to Sinai and extremely long-lived. Dedicated to Virgin Mary, the chapel was built with its altar situated above the roots of the bush.
- The Church of the Monastery of Saint Catherine
Built in the 6th century, the church is the Basilica of the Transfiguration (or Katholikon). The Basilica consists of a wide central nave, two side aisles, an apse and a narthex. The nave is bordered by massive granite columns with capitals decorated with Christian symbols. Next to the main altar is a sarcophagus which contains the relics of St. Catherine. The aisles on both sides contain 3 chapels each, and the apse contains one chapel. The iconstasis, the floor and the ceiling date back to the 18th century. Also found are icons and mosaics which are considered marvelous masterpieces of art. The church has a neo-Classical bell tower that was built in 1871. The bell contained there is a gift from the Tsar of Russia.
- The Fatimid Mosque in Saint Catherine Monastery
The Fatimid Mosque which lies within the walls of the Monastery of St. Catherine was built in 1106 over a Crusader Chapel with the purpose to convince the Bedouins to abstain from attacking the monastery. But, the mosque was never used. Small as it was, the mosque comprises a small courtyard with a wooden roof.
The Mount of Moses is also referred to as 'Djabal El-Munagah'. This is because, according to the Monotheistic religions, God spoke to Prophet Moses at this particular site. It is also known as 'Mount Horeb', 'Mount Musa', 'Gebel Musa', 'Jabel Mousa' and 'Moses Mountain'. The height of Mount Moses reaches 2285 meters. Admirers of the charming, absorbing views can climb the mountain by night to contemplate the beautiful sunrise and immerse in the glamour of the taking scene. Nearing the top, one can view old chapels honoring saints and the Virgin Mary. At its top, there is a mosque and a small church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Known as the Burning Bush, this small chapel was built in 1934 on the remains of a 16th century church. To make a great tour to this pilgrimage destination, people from different spots in the world come to Sinai Mount. The tour usually includes visiting the Monastery of St. Catherine, the Burning Bush, Elijah's Plateau and the Plain of ar-Raaha.
Maqam EI-Naby Haroun
Built of stone, Maqam EI-Naby Haroun is located in over a small hill in Wadi El-Raha (rest), opposite to Deir (Monastery) St. Catherine, near the Mount of Sefsafa, in Wadi (Valley) Firan. According to traditions, it is said that Aaron (Harun or Haroun), the brother of Moses, was buried there.
Additionally, South Sinai Governorate is considered a Holy Land for the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For that reason, the religious tourism is one of its biggest elements of attraction. In a charming land of geological variety, vast spaces of desert and semi-desert, contrasts of light and shade, stark mountains, vast starry sky at night, adventurers can find the ideal place to practice their hobbies. With its stunning nature, South Sinai has enchanting beaches of nearly 600 km long of fine sand, warm turquoise waters, coral reefs, teeming with marine animals and exotic multicolored fishes. The waters of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez are ideal for practicing water sports (such as diving, fishing, sailing and water skiing). All over Sinai, great multitudes of diving centers are awaiting to satisfy the wishes of all visitors, especially in Ras Mohammad, Sharm El Sheikh, Blue Hall (in Dahab), Taba and Nueibaa. Besides, there are uncountable resorts that provide restful and luxurious services with their centers, swimming pools, diving clubs, unique deluxe cruise trips, and unforgettable safari journeys