St Catherine's Monastery

St Catherine's Monastery is one of the most popular attractions in Egypt, and it is easy to understand why. Situated at the base of Mt Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula, this monastery is built around a fourth-century chapel. This chapel is said to occupy the biblical site of the Burning Bush—where God communicated with Moses according to Biblical text. Up atop Mt Sinai is where Moses is believed to have received the Ten Commandments, so the area in general is sacred ground.

The St Catherine's Mount Sinai Monastery was constructed in the sixth century under the order of the then Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I. According to many academics, it is the oldest continuously working monastery in the world, though others believe that the Monastery of Saint Anthony might just deserve that claim. Also worthy of inclusion on an Egypt vacation itinerary, the Monastery of Saint Anthony can be found to the south of Cairo.

There are many things to marvel at during a visit to St Catherine's Monastery. Among them is a living bush that some believe to be the original burning bush. Also of primary interest is the artwork that can be found inside. The monastery quite simply houses what is arguably the world's best collection of early religious works, or icons, as they are commonly known. Among these works is an icon of Christ Pantocrator that is from either the sixth of seventh century. That makes it the earliest known work of its kind. In addition to Christ, the icons that can be found inside the St Catherine's Monastery depict such notable figures as the Madonna, St Michael (the Archangel), and Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

Among the highlight at the St Catherine's Monastery in Egypt is the onsite museum, and no visit would be complete without some time spent inside the Church of St. Catherine. The museum features some well-preserved relics that include the likes of icons and fine embroidery pieces. As for the Church of St. Catherine, it boasts an amazing Byzantine mosaic to go with its impressive icons. The complex in general is an art enthusiast's dream, not to mention an ideal attraction for anyone who has an interest in religion and/or history.

It doesn't cost anything to enter the St Catherine's Mount Sinai monastery, though anyone who wishes to enjoy the museum exhibits must pay a fee. In addition to icons and other works of art, the museum collection includes a verifiable treasure trove of early books and manuscripts. It's little wonder that UNESCO designated St Catherine's Monastery as one of its World Heritage Sites and that so many people around the world treat it as a pilgrimage destination. These people aren't only Orthodox Christians, as you might suspect due to the church's affiliation. They include Christians in general, as well as Jews and Muslims.

St Catherine's Monastery is open daily, though the hours aren't very long. In fact, the visiting hours are 9 a.m. to noon. Many visitors come from one of the resorts that can be found along the Red Sea and stay overnight in the small town of St Catherines so that they can be close to the site in the morning. Tour packages for such endeavors are available, and for those who might be wondering, the Red Sea resort destinations include Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, and Dahab.

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