Having enjoyed an uninhabited stillness for most of human history, Sharm el-Sheikh is now a lively tourist town that dances with the desert. Its clear waters and extensive coral reefs line a host of luxurious accommodations, steeped in cultural heritage. This has made Sharm al-Shaykh a popular destination for holidaymakers, travellers, international conference organisers, and diplomats alike.
Historically known as the “bay of the wise”, Sharm el-Sheikh became a site of major strategic military importance, leading to its transformation from quiet coastal fishing village into major port and naval base. Since being declared The City of Peace in 1982, government, businessmen and investors have contributed to the development of several large-scale planning projects, promoting pilgrimage and play.
The Old Market: Al-Sahaba Mosque
A unique icon in contemporary Islamic architecture, the Al-Sahaba Mosque stands in the middle of The Old Market – an area overlooking the red sea with a mountainous backdrop straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.
Exhibiting a stellar fusion of different styles including Ottoman, Fatmid, and Mamluk, it was designed free of charge by Egyptian architect Fouad Tawfik Hafez. Roused from the old ruins of Israeli occupation and recent revolutions.
In the surrounding markets, gold and silver jewellery, semi-precious stones from Na’ama Bay, spices, glass perfume bottles, natural remedies, egyptian linen, and bedouin embroidery, cloak celestial communion in a continuous chatter of commerce.
Local delicacies include Sahlab: a thick, creamy white drink made from the dried tubers of white orchids and encrusted with pistachios, Karkade: a sweet Hibuscus stew, and Yansoon: an anise seed tea that gently soothes those trifling tourist tummy troubles.
Ras Mohammed: National Park
Considered the jewel in the crown of the Red Sea, the headland of Ras Mohammed National Park is home to some of the world’s most spectacular coral-reef ecosystems. Teeming with protected marine life, most if not all of the Red Sea’s 1000 fish species can be seen through the glassy surface of its warm waters. Some of the most sought-after specimens include pelagics, green sea turtles, manta rays and clownfish.
Green arrows lead to Ras Mohammed’s Mangrove forests, still surrounded by the cracks of ancient earthquakes and bathing in the beaches of the Yoalanda and Hidden Bays. While the area isn’t home to a distinct community, the locals who manage nearby camping sites belong to either the Mazayna or the Tarabin tribespeople.
Once part of the ancient kingdom of Punt, which was an important trading centre between Egypt and other parts of Africa, it today champions the treasures of a greener way of life; being one of very few places where you can witness red sea turtles nesting, amongst its famous snorkeling spots, moon-lit lagoons, seagrass beds and Egyptian vulture vantage points.
Na’ama Bay: Nightlife
A venerated Vegas replete with international names from Pachaa to Buddha Bar, Na’ama Bay is the only place in the world that you can access inspiration from the Decalogue at the foothills of TGI Fridays and the Hard Rock Hotel. Considered the main hub for the seasonal thrum of visitors, its construction and crafts brim with iconic souvenirs, dive centres, shisha spots, coastal coffee canvases, shopping malls and cocktail bars.
Mount Sinai: Moses Mountain
Without a Bedouin guide (and the well-lit pilgrim paths carved into the mountainside), the Sinai is a vast and unnavigable expanse of desert. The purported site of the ten commandments, “Jabal Musa” is renowned as the principal place of divine revelation in multiple faith traditions.
Today the climb exhibits a few more comforts than that of its ancient predecessors – with tea house breaks strategically placed at 20 minute intervals, accompanied by fresh flat breads and warm blankets for sunrise at the summit.
Scattered over the governorate is a modest Bedouin population that lives mainly by growing dates, barley, fruits and raising livestock (camels, goats, donkeys, and sheep); the city of Al-Tur being a primary settlement, their close neighbours harvest black gold for the oil industry of the Sinai.
St Catherine’s Monastery: The Pious And Profane
Considered the oldest monastery in the world (a claim as disputed as the contents of its scrolls), St Catherine’s Monastery is home to thousands of early books and manuscripts; many containing dead languages and secretive palimpsests – the parchment now being considered more valuable than the texts.
Proving that sometimes a discovery can mean stumbling across new and fascinating objects, but equally – in looking more closely at treasures that are already well-known, only the untold grows within the gates of this biblical fascination.
Besides the chapel, the monastic compound also holds an ancient charnel for monks. Although monks are typically considered the most pious of men having dedicated their lives to God, some of the monks of St. Catherine had broken ranks and were sent to Sinai as punishment.
As they were laid to rest, the pious beside the profane in the midst of the desert’s sparse resources, the monks discovered the ground unsuitable for proper burial. The solution took the form of a house of skulls located below the monastery: a quiet dialogue with death, immortalised as a UNSECO world heritage site.