Saint Catherine, Egypt
Saint Catherine was not established as a city at that time, it was always part of the Egyptian Empire throughout history and it was part of the province of "Deshret Reithu".
Sports & nature
Nature The city of Saint Catherine and other close towns fall within the region of Saint Katherine Protectorate, which was established in 1988. It is a unique high altitude ecosystem with many endemic and rare species, including the world's smallest butterfly (the Sinai baton blue butterfly), flocks of shy Nubian ibex, and hundreds of different plants of medicinal value. The region has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Area. Some of the species are endangered, but there are many species of wild animals, birds and flowers to see. There are many Sinai agamas, rock hyraxes and foxes. Harmless to people, foxes regularly visit the town at night to steal and scavenge. Rock hyraxes are often seen frequenting gardens, and there is a wide range of migrating and resident birds from Europe. Also, there is a large number of feral donkeys in the mountains who migrate to the region and lower lying areas (reportedly as far as El Tur) in the winter and return to graze for the more plentiful summer. Many of them belong to families and are stamped with marks. However, they put big pressure on the ecosystem and there is a move to reduce their numbers by the Saint Katherine City Council.
One of the principal goals of the Protectorate is to preserve the biodiversity of the fragile ecosystem, with an emphasis on the Nubian ibex and the wild medicinal and aromatic plants. The St Katherine Protectorate is another major job provider in the area, although the number of local Bedouins employed fell back sharply since the initial European Union support ended, according to local sources.
Snow is the best source of water as it melts slowly, thus releasing water at a steady pace, replenishing the underwater catchment areas better. Water from rain flows down fast in the barren mountains, which may cause flash floods and less water would remain.
The views from the highest mountains in Egypt are extensive, and there are many other natural sights in the wadi system. There are springs, creeks, water pools, narrow canyons, steep wadis with large boulders, rock formations, and barren plains with islands of vegetation. On the top of the mountains there are many interconnected basins with a unique high altitude ecosystem, home to the world's smallest butterfly and other rare plant species.
The highest mountain in Egypt is Mount Katherine, and there are many other peaks in the area over 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Mount Katherine can be reached via Wadi El Arbain or Wadi Shaq, either way a full day. Usually the trek routes make circles, with sleeping at the top. There is a small Orthodox chapel at the top. The Monastery constructed a small stone hut where trekkers and pilgrims can stay for overnight in the harshly cold weather. There is usually a candle and matches for travellers to use, but one can also leave some if they wish to. There is also a broom and rubbish bins, and people are expected to clean up after themselves. From the peak there are views over Mount Sinai (Jebel Musa), and on a clear day one can see as far as Sharm el Sheikh and the Red Sea.
Jebel Abbas Basha is another popular peak; from here one can see the villages and the city as well as the rest of the high mountains. It can be reached in one day, but if one wants to stay for the sunset, it is better to make it in two days, either sleeping on the top or in Wadi Zawatin or Wadi Tinya at the base of the mountain.
A little further is Jebel el Bab, which could be visited in two days, but better included in a 3-to-4-day trek visiting other places as well. On the way up from Wadi Jebal one would pass Ras Abu Alda, a rock formation resembling the head of a mountain goat, from where there are views to Mount Umm Shomar, another popular peak even further, and the southern ranges. From the peaks of Jebel el Bab and Bab el Donya one can look over Mount Tarbush and can see El Tur and the Gulf of Suez. Under the peaks is the spring of Ain Nagila. Other popular peaks in the area include Jebel Ahmar, Jebel Serbal, Jebel Banat and Jebel Sana.
There are many small ponds flowing under the rocks in lush Wadi Talaa Kibira, leading down to the biggest water pool of the area, Galt el Azraq — "the Blue Pool". Its colour is actually changing due to the regular floods and melting snow — one brings sand from higher up, and the next takes it further down and cleans the pool. It is safe to swim in it.
There are permanent pools at the top of Wadi Shaq Tinya and the Kharazet el Shaq, in a dramatic setting. The water from Wadi Tinya drops into a granite pool from which it flows down to other pools and falls into a deep wadi, some places running under rocks, and at other places resurfacing. The water is clean enough to drink in the upper pool.
At the beginning of Wadi Shaq there is a narrow canyon where there are permanent granite waterpools, from which water disappears in the sandy floor at one place and only re-emerges before the end of the wadi.
Water trickles from a rock into a double fountain in Wadi Tubuq. The lower fountain is for animals, locals drink from the upper one. It is considered safe, although the water might need to be treated, for instance by boiling. There is also a 1000-year-old mulberry tree in Wadi Tubuq, which is protected by tribal law. From Wadi Tubuq one can descend to Sid Daud — a narrow, steep path leading through small caves under the boulders.
In the narrow canyon of Wadi Sagar there is another water fountain. Because of the steep path, animals cannot reach it and the water is safe to drink. A rarely visited route through Wadi Umm Surdi leads through a narrow canyon to Wadi Mathar and another mulberry tree which grows just outside a communal garden
Culture and history info
Culture and population The traditional people of the area, the Jebeliya Bedouin, are a unique people having been brought from south-eastern Europe in the 6th century AD. Originally Christians, they soon converted to Islam and intermarried with other nomad tribes. Some segments of the tribe arrived relatively recently from the Arabian Peninsula. Their culture is very similar to other Bedouin groups, but they preserved some unique features. Contrary to other Bedouin tribes, the Jebeliya have always been practicing agriculture and are expert gardeners which is evident in the wadis around Saint Catherine. They have lived and still live in a symbiotic relationship with the monastery and its monks, and even today many Bedouin work with the monastery on its compound or in one of its gardens.
The city also hosts a number of Greeks and Russians, who control the historic monastery.
The cold weather of the city, specifically in winter nights, made people used to stay at heated homes early, and keen on growing plants which could produce liquids to warm themselves.
The Jebeliya are skilled gardeners and craftsmen who have been building gardens, houses, store rooms, water dams and other structures in the mountains for centuries.
The techniques used are very similar to Byzantine methods, partly because of the natural environment, and partly because of the interaction between the Bedouin and the monastery. In fact, they have received seeds from the monks to start crops. They grow vegetables and fruit in stone-walled gardens called bustan or karm, and mastered grafting where a branch of a higher-yielding lowland variety is planted on a more resistant but low-yielding mountain variety.
A variety of species of plants and crops grow here, such as almond, because of the moderate climate. Other fruits include apple, pear, apricot, peach, fig, pistachio, dates and grapes. Walnut is rare but grown at a few locations. Mulberry grows wild in some of the wadis and they belong to the whole tribe. Wild figs, tasty but small, grow in many places. Olives are essential to the natives, and found in many locations. Vegetables are not grown to the extent as in the past because of less water. Flowers and medicinal herbs are grown everywhere.
The gardens are usually built in the wadi floors in the main water course, and are encircled by massive stone walls. These walls have to withstand regular flash floods, retain the soil — thus called "retaining walls" — and protect the garden from wild animals. A number of gardens have water wells, but these wells freeze in winter and sometimes in spring and autumn. Today usually generators pump the water, but many shadoofs can still be seen. Water is often found at higher elevations, either in natural springs or in wells made at dykes called jidda. The Bedouin built small dams and closed off canyons to make reservoirs. In either case water is channelled to small rock pools called birka, from where it was available for irrigation. Water was flown in narrow conduits made of flat rocks sometimes for miles — they are still visible but today gardens rely on plastic pipes (khartoom). These gardens are a unique feature of the high mountain area, along with other stone and rock structures.
Bedouin houses are simple and small stone structures with cane roofing, either incorporated in the garden wall, or standing alone a bit further up from the wadi floor, away from the devastating flash floods that sweep through after occasional heavy rains. Houses are often built next to huge boulders; natural cracks and holes in it are used as shelves and candle holders.
Smaller rock shelters and store rooms are constructed under boulders and in walled-up caves, and are found everywhere in the mountainous area. Some of them are easily visible landmarks, such as in Abu Seila or Farsh Rummana, but most are hard to distinguish from the landscape.
Ancient leopard traps can be seen in many places, either under boulders such as in Wadi Talaa, or standing alone as on the top of Abu Geefa. The traps functioned by placing a goat inside as bait, and the entrance was slammed shut with a big rock when a leopard entered. There are no more leopards left in Sinai; the last was spotted in the 1980s.
In many places big boulders can be seen with oval-shaped marks engraved on the surface. They are marriage proposal rocks, where a lover drew a line around his foot on the rock face next to his lover's foot print. If the two marks are encircled, their wish was granted and they got married. Wishing rocks are boulders, usually a short distance from the main paths, with a flat top — according to local legend, if one throws a pebble and it stays on the top, one's wish will come true.
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Saint Catherine (also spelled: St. Katrine; Egyptian Arabic: سانت كاترين pronounced [ˈsænte kætˈɾiːn]) is a city in the South Sinai Governorate. It is located at the outskirts of the El Tor Mountains at an elevation of 1,586 m (5,203 ft), 120 km (75 mi) away from Nuweiba, at the foot of Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s Monastery. In 1994, its population was 4,603. Saint Catherine is a UNESCO world heritage site, officially declared in 2002.