History of the Monastery
The monastery is situated 1571 m above sea level and dates back to Roman times 542 A.D. To protect the numerous monks who had settled around Burning Bush and to withstand the attacks of marauding Bedouins, Justinian’s builders under the direction of the architect Stephanos Ailisios constructed a fortress of such monumentality that its walls stand little changed after 14 centuries, except for the northern expanse which was damaged several times and last repaired in 1801, during Napoleon’s Egyptian adventure. This outer wall is built of dressed local granite to a thickness of 6 to 9 feet. It’s height, differing according to the ground contours and external topography, is never less than 30 feet and in places even reaches 60 feet.
On the way to the site
As we do pickups from any hotel in Sharm el Sheikh you do not need to worry about it. Our rep will pick up from your hotel in Sharm-el-Sheikh in the morning as scheduled in your invoice and let’s start our journey towards Nuweiba city. The monastery is 225 km far from Sharm el Sheikh, so it will take up to 3 hours to reach the destination. As we will drive through old caravan road you will enjoy with the views, desert landscapes and beautiful mountains.
The Main church
In the Monastery our visit will include the main church of St. Catherine monastery which is considered to be one of the most famous churches all over the world. Stephanos, the architect who constructed the Monastery walls, also built the church at the northern end of the compound. It was began in 542 AD and completed nine years later. St. Helena’s church of the Burning Bush was incorporated into it. Its walls & pillars, the roof and the inscriptions are from the period of Justinian. The icons in the church are from 6th century and onwards. The wooden doors at the church entrance are 1400 years old.
Mosaic of Transfiguration
There is a magnificent mosaic depicting the transfiguration of Jesus in the apse inside the church. It is the earliest and one of the most beautiful mosaics of the Eastern Church which has remained in its entirety to our days. In artistic style it is similar to the Italian school of this period, especially the mosaics in the church of S. Vitalius, as well as in the Higia Sofia in Constantinople.
The burning bush flourishes several yards farther from the chapel where it was transplanted in order to build the holy Alter upon its roots. It is the only bush of its kind growing in the entire Sinai Peninsula.
Library and the Charnel House
The Monastery Library which is considered the second in importance only to the Vatican, in both number and value of the manuscripts contains 3000 items.
The Charnel house is a repository of the bones of the monks who died at St. Catherine over the centuries. The dead are first buried in a small cemetery, then disinterred and their bones deposited in the charnel house.
You can optionally visit the Icon Gallery which exhibits 150 out of 2000 priceless icons of immense spiritual, artistic and historic value. Part of the collection belongs to the early Byzantine period (6th – 10th century), 12 of the rarest and oldest icons of the 6th century were made in the wax-melting technique. Western icons are rare but the Spanish icon of Saint Catherine in Gothic style dating to 1387 can be seen in the church.
Lunch time & Dahab city
Lunch will be offered in a local restaurant in St. Catherine city. After lunch we will go to Dahab city where we will end our program with a free tour in Dahab city and its bazaars. At the end of the day we will go back to Sharm el Sheikh.