Mount Sinai is located in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula. This area is often considered the land that connects Asia and Africa. The mountain goes by many names including Mount Horeb, Jebel Musa, and Mount Moses.
The mountain reaches 7,497 feet in elevation. Although this is quite high, the mountains surrounding it are taller. The closest city is Saint Catherine, with a population of around 4,600. The mountain is composed of different types of granite and volcanic rock, believed to have formed during the latter part of the evolution of the Arabian-Nubian Shield.
This mountain has a long history which has led it to become one of the holiest places in the world for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. According to the texts of these religions, Mount Sinai is where Moses spoke with God and received the Ten Commandments. This event occurred as Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into present-day Israel. Christians moved to this area in the 3rd century AD, and Georgians from Caucasus came in the 5th century.
Located near the foot of the mountain is Saint Catherine’s Monastery, the oldest working Christian monastery in the world. It was built between 548 and 565 AD as ordered by the Emperor Justinian I. It is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The monastery has a bush within its grounds that is believed to be the bush that Moses saw burning. During the Fatimid Caliphate, the Islamic dynasty between 909 and 1171, one of the chapels within the monastery was converted into a mosque. Muslims used this mosque on a regular basis through the 13th century. By the time of the Ottoman Empire, the mosque was in disarray, but it was repaired in the 20th century. It continues in use today for special celebrations.
A pilgrimage is a journey made by a person in search of spiritual or religious meaning. A pilgrimage destination is a sacred place where pilgrims go to honor the significance of the location, speak to a religious figure, or become closer to their religion. Because of its historical and ongoing religious importance, Mount Sinai is a pilgrimage destination for people of the Abrahamic faiths. Pilgrims have been making the trip here since the 4th century AD.
Both tourists and pilgrims may hike to the summit of the mountain. One of the most popular times to begin the trek is at 2 AM, which allows the visitor to reach the top by sunrise. Two different paths go to the peak. The first of these is longer, yet not as steep. People may go up walking or on the camel, in which case they must walk the final 750 steps. The second path is shorter and steeper. The hiker must climb 3,750 steps, which are referred to as the “Steps of Penitence.” These steps were carved by a monk as an act of penitence. At the summit, there is an ancient mosque, built in the 12th century, as well as a chapel, built in 1934.
In addition to the summit, visitors and pilgrims may also visit Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other interesting sites include a spring that provides water to the monastery and is said to be where Moses met his wife, a basilica with a mosaic of “The Transformation,” and the library of the monastery where over 4,500 rare written works can be found. It is said that the library is after the Vatican in its collection of ancient manuscripts.