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Traveling through Sinai

Traveling through Sinai: From the Fourth to the Twenty-first Century

Deborah Manley
Sahar Abdel-Hakim
With illustrations by W.H. Bartlett
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Traveling through Sinai
    Book Description:

    Sinai has long attracted travelers to its ancient caravan routes and haunting landscapes, and visitors have frequently left written accounts of their experiences. In this wide-ranging anthology, Deborah Manley and Sahar Abdel- Hakim have collected dozens of accounts and observations from travelers who have written about Sinai, its people, its sights, and its historical and biblical landmarks. Starting with Egeria, a fourth-century Christian who relates her visit to Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush, Traveling through Sinai offers a diverse collection of voices over the centuries. Among themare the German friar Felix Fabri, who visited in 1492, and nineteenth-century antiquarian William Flinders Petrie, giving his impressions of the Bedouins of the peninsula. French novelist Alexandre Dumas writes of meeting two monks in the desert carrying a letter signed by Napoleon, while others describe crossing the canal at Suez, the ancient inscriptions of Wadi Mukattab, and the harrowing experiences of desert travel.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-540-0
    Subjects: Middle East Studies, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xiv)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Sinai is unique in human history both in terms of the events that took place on this land and the recording of its history. To learn about the land and know its history, one needs to know both what travelers thither scribbled on paper and what they engraved on Sinaitic stone. A record of the land is inscribed on the land itself as events that remain as elusive as any narrative, at once narrating a history and refusing to disclose it. History still asks these questions:

    Whichis the peak on which Moses received the Ten Commandments from God and...

  4. 1 To Sinai and Back
    (pp. 7-22)

    In that mount up high

    Is a minster of our Lady:

    The minster of the Bush, men call it,

    Wherein the body of St Katherine was put.

    Also behind the high altar

    Is where Jesus did appear

    In that church to Moses,

    When he kept Jethro of Midian’s sheep truly.

    In the midst of that hill is a place

    Where did penance the prophet Elijah;

    One the height of that hill

    God gave to Moses both the Laws

    Written in tables, without miss.

    Plenary remission then it is.

    A garden there is at no distance

    Where Onorius did his penance....

  5. 2 The Place, the People, and the Travelers
    (pp. 23-36)

    Sinai is a curious country: geographically it forms a giant’s stepping-stone between Africa and Asia; politically it is a province of Egypt; historically and racially it has affinities with Arabia; geographically it is unique. Considering its accessible position it must be one of the least-travelled and least-known regions in the world. Except in the case of certain monastic groups and a few coastal villages there had been no attempt to live in it, for without a regular water-supply there can be no settled life. Nearly all the interior is filled by a huge limestone plateau called et Tih, the traditional...

  6. 3 Preparations for the Journey
    (pp. 37-50)

    It is needful that all travellers intending to make a sojourn in the convent of Santa Katerina at Mount Sinai, should take with them a letter of introduction from the superior of the Greek convent at Cairo. For the purpose of obtaining such a credential, we resolved on paying a personal visit to the worthy superior. Having arrived at the outer gate, we found several brethren seated on a dewan, within, dressed in the graceful costume of their order, and with fine flowing beards, and hair streaming over their shoulders. They performed the office of porters, or janitors. They received...

  7. 4 From Cairo to Suez
    (pp. 51-66)

    At length, everything is ready, the camels blockading the door, and the usual clamour of the Arabs filling the street, I left the hotel to pay one or two farewell visits, and joined my little caravan to the cemetery outside the Bab-en-Nusr, or Gate of Victory, where the splendid domes of the tombs of the Memlook sultans—the perfection of Arabian architecture—rise like an exhalation from the lonely waste. By unusually good management the camels, often reloaded here, were already provided with their respective burdens and I had nothing to do but to start.

    It was so much earlier...

  8. 5 Routines, Hardships, and Pleasures of the Journey
    (pp. 67-86)

    This sea has the name ‘Red’ not because the water is red or muddy. Indeed it is quite as sparkling clear as the Ocean. Its fish are excellent and unusually sweet, and fish of all types from this sea taste as good as the fish of the Italian Sea (the Mediterranean). You have all the sea-food you could want: there are trumpet-shells and oysters of various kinds, white-shells, and several kinds of large snail. And the different things you find along the shore are bigger and prettier than by any other sea. Also there is a great deal of coral...

  9. 6 Coming to Sinai across the Red Sea
    (pp. 87-96)

    [W]e rested about two o’clock near certain fountains called Ain el Musa, or the Fountains of Moses, situated among little hills; which I went to, and found the water tolerably good, but with a little saltness; and no sooner does it rise out of the bowels of the earth, but it is lost again in the sand, or, as I may say, is in the day time instantly absorbed by the burning and thirsty sand. At night it seems to flow further than it does by day, as may be seen by the traces it leaves behind; and I believe...

  10. 7 Wide Desert, Deep Wadis, and High Mountains
    (pp. 97-132)

    On leaving Ain Moosa the traveller turns his back on civilisation, and enters on the wide desert. And nothing can well be more dreary and monotonous than the first day’s journey. At first the plain is a little broken, but after a few miles, at Wady ed Dehseh, a flat desolate expanse is entered on, unrelieved by any feature.

    The march is toilsome enough even if the weather be clear and fine; but if, as is frequently the case, a khamseen wind gets up, making the atmosphere oven-like in its heat and oppressiveness, and enveloping everything in a shroud of...

  11. 8 Episodes and Encounters on the Journey
    (pp. 133-140)

    My companions the Bedouins now became objects of great interest to me. I had almost overlooked them when crouching in a circle near the hotel in Cairo, speaking with bated breath and glancing uneasily to and fro with their restless black eyes; now abroad in their own wilderness, they are totally different in manner and bearing. They are mostly fine athletic fellows, graceful and even noble in their movements; a result derived from constant exercise and the sense of untrammelled freedom; spare and sinewy, both from the sobriety of their habits and the dry heat which parches up also superfluous...

  12. 9 Arriving at the Convent
    (pp. 141-158)

    Early in the morning we pursued our course, and at sun-set arrived at a green valley, whence we had the pleasure of descrying the wished-for convent. It has the appearance of a fortress, and is situated at the extremity of a cul de sac formed by overhanging rocks. If I had to represent the end of the world, I would model it from Mount Sinai.

    During the day’s journey we did not see a human being, nor even the vestige of man, save that, on the edge of a precipice, the figure of the cross proclaimed the zeal and labour...

  13. 10 The Convent and Convent Life
    (pp. 159-190)

    Sinai is really a block of mountains 8550 feet in height. About 1600 feet from the top it branches upwards into three peaks, Jebel Catarina, Jebel Musa, which is considered by the monks to be the traditional Mount of the Law, and the Râs Sufsafah, or Mount of the Willow.

    The scenery in these lonely valleys is almost too grand for description. Whether we gazed on the majestic rugged cliffs around us in the fierce glare of daylight as they stood out sharp against the intense blue of the sky, or watched the shadows creeping upwards on their worn sides...

  14. 11 Convent Life and the Traveler
    (pp. 191-208)

    Our voyageurs were made very welcome. They put two monks at our disposal to serve us. The next day we attended divine office, and their repast. At their repast they observed the rule of the desert hermits: at Christmas and Easter and feast days and on ordinary days they ate the same. Some of the several dishes served were thorn-leaves, gruel, lentils and Red Sea fish. On feast days they each had a portion of eau-de-vie of dates and a cup of wine or water.

    When pilgrims arrive at the convent, a caloyer or lay brother is appointed to attain...

  15. 12 Pilgrimage to the Neighboring Holy Places
    (pp. 209-228)

    So this was our plan. When we had seen everything we wanted and come down from the Mount of God, we would come to the place of the Bush (the present place of the Monastery). Then from there we would return through the middle of the valley now ahead of us and so return to the road with the men of God, who would show us each one of the places mentioned in the Bible. And that is what we did.

    So, coming in from Paran, we said the prayer. Then, going on, we made our way across the head...

  16. 13 The Return from Sinai
    (pp. 229-238)

    From Sinai direct to Palestine via Nahkl is a route which presents no object of interest to the ordinary traveller: he had much better return to Suez, and go thence, via Port Said to Jaffa.

    The travelers through the ages desired to leave a mark of their visit at the Convent. Early travelers wrote or carved their name in their room or pasted a note of their presence there. Later travelers were offered a book—the Book of Strangers—in which they could inscribe their names.

    The travellers’ room in the convent of Mount Sinai, like the travellers’ room in...

  17. The Travelers: Brief Biographies
    (pp. 239-250)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-254)
  19. Index of Travelers
    (pp. 255-257)