Monday, June 15, 2009

Travel: The Sinai Stones

Al Ahram Weekly (Amira El-Naqeeb)

I've met many mountains and many deserts, yet the South Sinai Mountains -- especially at Saint Catherine -- have a unique power of channelling spirituality. The hike was a tailor-made trek to explore the area of Wadi Jebal, which is known among the Bedouins of St Catherine as the High Mountains area, and lies northwest of Saint Catherine Monastery. The hike involved walking through different valleys and vineyards, as well as visiting some mountains. The area is mostly inhabited by Al-Jebalia tribe, who came to Sinai almost 1,500 years ago.

Ahmed Assem, who is researching human development in Sinai, said that 200 soldiers where summoned to St Catherine by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (who ruled between 483-565 AD), and were charged with serving and guarding the Monastery of St Catherine. These soldiers, mostly from southeastern Europe, are the ancestors of Al-Jebalia.

The Greek Orthodox monastery enclosing the Chapel of the Burning Bush was built at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush; the living bush on the grounds is purportedly the original. The site is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Assem suggested that the rocks scattered around the valley are remains of rooms built by Roman monks who sought the spirituality of the mountains to spend their days in prayer and seclusion -- a practice followed by many monks until today.

From Wadi Jebal and Rehibet Nada, and then down to Imesakha trail is the path that Al-Jebalia used to take on foot to Al-Tor city. This route was originally used by Byzantine monks between the fourth and seventh centuries to reach the port in Al-Tor, called Raithu at the time.

See the above page for the full story.

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