When Moses was sentenced to death for killing an Egyptian, he fled to the Sinai mountains, married Jethro’s daughter and tended to the man’s flocks. You, too, can trek through the Exodus.
Sinai is where legacies are relived. The peninsula’s desert provided the setting for dozens of remarkable religious happenings that represent a common link in the faith of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The St Catherine protectorate is certainly one of the most familiar, albeit mystifying Sinai desert attractions. The protectorate, standing on 4,350 square kilometres, was declared a natural park in 1996. The high altitude ecosystem of the Monastery of St Catherine and Mount Moses (Gabal Moussa) and the religious landscape intertwine in this area with rich Bedouin culture.
The Jebeliya Bedouin tribe has a particular regard for Mount Moses as holy. Back in the third century the monastic tradition grew when Christians sought refuge from Rome’s persecution. Relics of these Roman and Byzantine eras can still be seen on the mountain in ancient quarries, water conduits and paved paths.
Monastery of Saint Catherine
It’s strongly advisable before embarking on safaris in Sinai to get acquainted with the historical details concerning your trek. This way, you will feel like reliving the past, which will definitely enrich your experience and make it far more interesting.
Itineraries to this area are easily arranged with professional guides and can be tailored according to travellers’ fitness level, their interest in specific attractions and time available. One of the famous treks is about 7km and takes 5-7 hours to complete. It’s a trek through the Exodus when Moses was sentenced to death for killing an Egyptian, and to escape persecution, had fled to the Sinai mountains where he married Jethro’s daughter and tended to the man’s flocks.
One day God revealed himself to Moses in the Miracle of the Burning Bush. While Moses was on Mount Sinai God presented him with two stone tablets on which were inscribed the Ten Commandments.
The trek starts off at Wadi Al-Deir (The Monastery Valley) where close by there’s a chapel and a mosque. This is the area reputed to witness the making of the Golden Calf. On the road to the St Catherine Monastery stand the remains of the barracks that Abbas Pasha built for his soldiers and workers in 1853. Further up the road, look at the lower slopes of the mountains for loose stones. They were used in building the monastery and its fortification in the sixth century.
Moses’ tree, planted in the Monastery of Saint Catherine
As you reach the Monastery of St Catherine, you will start to understand the interdependent relationship between the Jebeliya Bedouins and the monks of the monastery. Long ago, the Jebeliya depended on the supplies and services the monastery provided while the latter relied on the local Bedouin for manual labour and protection. The Jebeliya are originally descendants of soldiers and servants who were sent by Byzantine Emperor Justinian to build and maintain the monastery. To this day some Jebeliya Bedouins still work at the monastery as gardeners, groundsmen, carpenters and bakers.
In the third century, at the site of the Burning Bush, Saint Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, ordered the building of a church and tower to serve as a shelter for the monks and hermits who escaped persecution and followed a life of prayer and devotion. Three centuries later, Byzantine Emperor Justinian built a fortified monastery to encompass the church and tower – the St Catherine Monastery.
Behind the monastery you will go on camelback to Elijah’s Basin. Camels will drop you off and from there you take the remaining 750 steps to the top of Mount Moses on foot. While on camelback, look for rocks on the surface of which are black plant-like patterns. Legend has it that these patterns were the cause of divine light intense enough to imprint the shadows of plants on stone and reminiscent of the leaves from the Burning Bush. Geologists, however, call this phenomenon dendritic pyrolusite and concluded that it is formed by a chemical reaction which leaves a manganese deposit.
When you reach the final steps of the Stairway of Repentance, you will be 2,285 metres above sea level and on top of Mount Moses.
The trek ends there but if you decide to go further down the camel path, on a bend is the Monastery of Saints Episteme and Galaktion. The latter was born in the fourth century to pagan parents who had been childless until a priest advised them to pray to the God of the Christians for a baby. Galaktion was born and brought up a Christian and later married Episteme. Both became monastic and settled in Sinai to escape persecution but were then captured by the Romans and killed in the arena in Alexandria.
It was Edward Hull, in 1885 who perhaps described it best when he said, “Nothing can exceed the savage grandeur of the view from the summit of Mount Moses. The infinite complication of jagged peaks and varied ridges, and their prevalent intensely red and greenish tints.”
Visiting hours to the Monastery of St Catherine are between 9am and noon daily except Fridays, Sundays and feast days when it is closed to all visitors.