Although the town itself was developed in the 1980s, and thus is a quite contemporary city, it occupies land that has great significance to adherents of the three major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
St Katherine is located close to the mountain that is generally known as Mount Sinai. With a height of 2285 metres, this mountain also has several other names, which include Mt Horeb and Gebal Musa. It is the place where Moses (Musa to followers of Islam) was said to have met with God to collect the Ten Commandments.
Mt Sinai is not a single-peaked mountain, but a massif which contains several peaks. There are churches and mosques scattered over the slopes of the mountain, and also atop the highest peak.
The most significant building can be found at the mountain’s base. This is an Orthodox Christian monastery called St Katherine, which is also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration.
It is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the world, and, according to tradition, occupies the place of the Burning Bush, which was one of the most significant events in the Biblical story of Moses.
The Monastery of St Katherine is regularly visited by pilgrims and those on Biblical tours. The building is so well preserved because it has been fortunate to be at various times under the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, Arab and Turkish leaders and Napoleon, which helped to preserve it virtually undamaged.
Unusual in this part of the world, there is even a mosque within the monastery’s walls.
The town of St Katherine is at an elevation of 1600 metres (5200ft), so it is a pleasant retreat in the hot summer months. Winters, on the other hand, can be cold, and at night it does get sub-zero temperatures. Because of its altitude this is the only place in Egypt where it snows on a regular basis.
For those visiting St Katherine, the town that is, there is an interesting mix of accommodation ranging from eco lodges and four-star hotels to Bedouin desert camps. Hiking and trekking are very popular activities, as well as camel safaris and jeep safaris for those who don’t imagine themselves to be a modern version of Lawrence of Arabia.