Sinai is a Biblical place where many events are believed to have taken place, and you find intact and ruined Byzantine sites all across the Peninsula. But you find other beautiful historic sites, from the ages of the Pharaohs and Nabataeans, and others from more recent times. A Top 10 is always difficult to list: it is subjective but also has to include the main tourist sights. Keeping both in mind, following is my list of the 10 best Sinai historic sites.
Mt. Sinai range: Mt. Sinai, with the Monastery of St. Katherine at its base, is the best known religious and historic site in the Sinai, but the range, between the holy peak and Ras Safsafa, harbours many little known gems. You find churches, gardens, hermit cells and other reminders of Byzantine monastic life.
Photo Archive links: Monastery of St. Katherine | Mt. Sinai range | Mt. Sinai summit | Camel Path | Stairs of Repentance | Elijah’s Basin | Farsh Loza | Farsh Arimziya | Farsh Safsafa | Kinest el Hmar
Nawamis site: The Nawamis buildings, not found anywhere in the world but in South Sinai, are circular stone structures. They are everywhere in the region in clusters or alone, except the High Mountains around St. Katherine. Built by the Nabataeans, famous for their main base in present day Jordan, Petra, they are always located at elevated places and their door faces west. It is said to be the first stone-roofed building. The best known and most beautiful site is in the desert between St. Katherine, Dahab and Nuweiba.
Ancient orchards: The Nabataeans already developed irrigation techniques to grow food in a desert environment, but the Byzantine settlers took it to a higher level. Building little dams, channels and water tanks, they also introduced many Mediterranean fruit species. The Bedouin people of the area took over the tradition and you still find hundreds of orchards all over the mountains. It is difficult to date dry rock structures and tell if an ancient building is Byzantine or Bedouin built, but the seeds planted centuries ago still bear fruit today.
Photo Archive links: (Links to come)
Serabit el Khadim: The Sinai was an outpost of the Pharaohs, interested in its mineral riches and the strategic north coast. They mined turquoise at a few places, most notably at Serabit el Khadim inland from Abu Zenima, where today a small Bedouin settlement stands. A temple was built for Hathor and you find steles, carvings and mine shafts atop a small plateau. Apart from the historic attractions, the site offers fantastic views on the vast desert plain known as El Ramla and the Tih Plateau.
Jebel Tahoun: Wadi Feiran is an important Biblical location in the Sinai with many religious and historic sites, and some scholars believed Jebel Serbal is the true Mt. Sinai. You find a functioning convent today in the oasis, built next to the ruins of the old one. There are more ruins in the wadi and hermit cells carved in the base of the sandstone hills, and right opposite the convent stands Jebel Tahoun. A bigger hill, it is believed to be the place from where Moses watched the battle with the Amalekites and the ruins of a church to mark this event are located atop. Whether it is or it is not the place, the view on the convent below and Jebel Serbal in the background is magnificent.
Monastery of Kosmas and Damianos (Deir Raheb) : The Monastery of St. Katherine is the best known in the Sinai, but there are several other intact and ruined monasteries in the region. The Monastery of Wadi Arbain (Wadi Leja) is a beautiful one, but probably the most picturesque is the Monastery of Kosmas and Damianos, locally known as Deir Raheb. Located a short walk from the town of St. Katherine, it is not open to the public but the view on it, set amongst tall cypress trees and boulders the size of multiple-storey buildings, is just amazing.
El Tur old buildings: Mentioned in the Holy Quran, El Tur is the capital of South Sinai. Apart from the visa office for long-term visitors, you find a few other attractions including the old port and shipyard. The houses are falling apart, but ships are still being built manually by craftsmen. The buildings are only a couple of hundred years old, but they represent a traditional Arab style that you find on the coasts of East Africa from the Red Sea all the way to the Swahili settlements of Lamu, Malindi and Zanzibar. Old Bedouin builders still remember the technique, building with trunks of date palms and rocks gathered from under the sea.
Photo Archive links: El Tur | (More links to come)
Sheikh Awad and Naqb el Hawa: You find little domed shrines all across the Sinai – they are the tombs of local holy men, known as sheikh or wali, and the Bedouin gather at these places at times to celebrate. Sheikh Awad is one of these places, and it is also where the Naqb el Hawa pass starts. It was the main pilgrims’ route to St. Katherine, and the path was paved with big rocks in Byzantine times. Today there is a little Bedouin settlement here, with the truly unique Al-Karm Ecolodge.
Abbas Basha heritage: The unfinished palace of Abbas Basha is fairly well known and visible from the town of St. Katherine, but the Ottoman governor of Sinai had more impact than this square stone structure alone. Palace building is a complex process, so he had to construct roads and settlements for workers – the roads are still used and maintained, while the rest is ruined. You find archaeological sites belonging to this era at the Monastery of St. Katherine, the Ein Tufaha area of town, around Farsh Zaq and Jebel Somra, and the Abu Jeefa pass and the road in El Ziri and Sharafat el Iskikriya were also built by him.
Nosrat: All over South Sinai, except in the High Mountains around St. Katherine, you find simple stone circles. Always built at great look-out points on the top of mountains with views on several similar points in the distance, they could have been part of an ancient communication system. The Bedouin call these circles ‘nosra’, which means trap, but they are truly not that – you do find traps across the Sinai peninsula, a contributor to the extinction of the leopards, but they have a very different shape. Who built these structures and what the purpose was is up for historians, but you can be sure if there is a ‘nosra’ at a place, the views are fantastic.
To see all relevant photos in the archive click the tags (keywords) ‘historic site‘ or ‘religious site‘, which then you can filter by adding other tags. For more information on religious and historic sites you can also visit St-Katherine.net. The most comprehensive resources on archaeological sites, however, are the two pocket atlases by Ahmed Shams. They feature over 300 detailed maps and almost 7000 named-coded items. You find more about his work on: ahmedshams.wix.com/sinai-peninsula.