Egypt: Mount Sinai

The alarm call comes much too early at 1am. I head down for some tea and then to the mini-bus for the short ride to the start of the walk up Mount Sinai, the location believed by the three major religions, to be where Moses received the ten commandments from god. No such grand scheme here: by leaving at this ungodly hour I should see the sunrise from the top.

The trek, lit only by torches, takes me up a camel path, past St Katherine’s monastery (which I’ll visit later in daylight hours), up, past various stores selling refreshments, up, past camel owners offering “taxi” rides to the top. Of course, I know it isn’t the top anyway. There are 750 (or more depending on who you ask) steps to the very top that the camels are not prepared to attempt.

People viewing sunrise from top of Mount Sinai, Egypt

I get to the top of the camel path with an hour before sunrise and stop in one of the three cafes for a warming hot chocolate and to hire a blanket — it’s been warm on the way up but now I’ll be sat still in the morning cold.

I stay a little longer than I should have as by the time I make my last push to the top there is no space for me to sit and I end up bobbing behind a couple of rows of people, trying to get a decent view.

Even lacking prime position the colours are beautiful and warm, the sight inspiring even without its religious significance.

Sunrise over Mount Sinai, Egypt

The walk down looks and feels completely different in the light. It seems longer (I heard 7km but it didn’t feel like a ten mile walk in total), the scenery unfamiliar.

Saint Catherines Monastery, Egypt

After breakfast I head back to the monastery. This is reportedly on the site of the biblical burning bush. It’s named after a saint who was tortured and died because of her faith, and was ushered to heaven by angels for her efforts.

It’s the longest continually running monastery (they claim) and has been up and running since the fourth century. Over that time, as I see in the chapel, they have accumulated considerable riches, with paintings and gold in every nook and cranny.

The burning bush, it turns out, is only descended from the original, but the setting is nice. Most of the place is closed for the public, leaving only the ossiary, which I skip partly because I’m not enthusiastic about seeing a pile of bones and partly because of the queue. There is also a small museum with illuminated documents dating from before icons where temporarily banned — making them virtually unique.

From St. Katherine’s I take the minibus to Cairo.