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Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about 68,000 sq km2 (26,000 sq mi) in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two continents. The bulk of the peninsula is divided administratively into two governorates and has a population of approximately 1000,000 people. In addition to its formal name, Egyptians also refer to it affectionately as the "Land of Fayrouz", based on the Ancient Egyptian "Turquoise".

Sinai is approx. 380 km long (north - south) and 210 km wide (west - east). coasts are stretching about 600 km on the west and on the east. The sea in the Gulf of Suez is about 80 meters deep, while the profile of the Gulf of Aqaba goes down to about 1.830 meters. The latter is a part of the big land rift that extends until Kenya.

About word "Sinai", there are many theories about its meaning; one of them that Sinai had been derived from the Arabic word "sen" which means in English "tooth" referring to its Mountains peaks taking the teeth form. Another theory says that there was a local god worshipped from three thousand years ago and his name was "Sen- the moon god" and then word Sinai came from him.

There are moments in Sinai when one feels as if the history of the entire world can be read in its stones. Indeed, the land here is a monument to the antiquity of life on Earth, from the fossilized reef animals of Ras Mohammed to the mines of El Maghara, whose copper fueled the Bronze Age. In many places visitors from thousands of years ago literally recorded their passage in stone, as at the Rock of Inscriptions near Dahab. And at Serabit El-Khadem, near ancient mining sites, archaeologists have discovered carvings that record the very earliest emergence of our alphabet.

All three of the World great religious - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - know Sinai as a holy land, a vast expanse traversed time and again by prophets, saints, pilgrims, and warriors. Sinai is most familiar to many as the "great and terrible wilderness" through which the Israelites wandered for forty years. However, it was also the path by which Amr swept down into Egypt in 640 AD, bringing Islam in his wake. Even after the Muslim conquest, the monks of St. Catherine Monastery (founded in 547 AD) continued to greet pilgrims to the site of the Burning Bush.

Many of the most memorable conquerors have passed through Sinai as well. Alexander the Great crossed at the head of a great army, as did Ramses II, Napoleon Bonaparte, and (in the opposite direction) Salah el-Din. The Arab-Israeli conflicts of this century raged across the Sinai as well, their passage still evident in the ghostly wreckage that marks certain parts of the Suez coast.

In recent years, and for the first time, the history of Sinai seems to be emerging as a story about the land itself--its artifacts, its people, and its extraordinary natural beauty--rather than the story of those who pass through that land. Today, it is the Sinai's brilliant coral reefs, its striking mountains and deserts, and its enormous cultural heritage that hold the future--once again, though in a very different way, the history of Sinai seems to be written in the land itself.

 

Sinai Desert

Desert is something that most people would associate with boring and lifeless matters. In fact, people who have ever been to the Sinai are convinced of the very contrary.

The predominating landscape of Sinai is desert. It extremely varies in both color and form, an exceptional mineral universe being formed in millions of years (see geology) in which nature has created splendid, singular sculptures out of the rock. Next to sand you find limestone, crystalline rock, sandstone, and volcanic rocks.

Colours rank from light white via yellow and red to dark black. The combination of these colours seen against the dark blue of the mostly cloudless sky is a breath-taking experience every minute. Especially in the mornings (6-9 a.m.) and in the evenings (4-6:30 p.m.) the sun is giving an intense light that illuminates the desert in the most beautiful photo scene. Photographers find a perfect time to capture the most marelous atmosphere.

Most parts if the peninsula is rocky and mountainous, with some sandy streches. These sandy areas are mostly located in the central Tih Plateau and were created by the pulverization of the rocks my meteors.

Few environments in the world can prepare a first-time visitor for the ferocious natural beauty of the Sinai. In the sinuous wadis of the south and the majestic, blasted vistas of the interior, the landscape is both visually overpowering and utterly still--as if nature had frozen the vast symphony of the earth's creation in stone. 

And in fact that idea is not so far from the truth, for the twisted, multicoloured granite and limestone terrain constitutes a stunning geologic record that stretches back eons. The most ancient of Sinai's elements are its craggy southern mountains, whose weatherworn granite dates from the Precambrian period, more than 600 million years ago. Less old, though more expressive in some ways of the antiquity of Sinai, are the dozens of Wadis, or fossilized riverbeds, that define the terrain all over the peninsula. From the depth and frequency of the Wadis, we can tell that Sinai was at one time a lush and fertile region.

Even today, these sandy courses carry sufficient water below their surface to support a remarkable variety of life. Larger wadis, like the Wadi Kid and the legendary Wadi Feiran, are quite fertile in places, and a careful exploration of even the smallest of wadis will reveal surprising pockets of color. In fact, it is not uncommon during certain seasons for sudden storms to send floodwaters raging down the close-hewn channels of the coastal wadis--floods that bring in their wake a veritable explosion of brilliant green plant life. 

The fauna of this landscape is, as one would expect, a hardy lot, with a curious tendency to bear an "x" in their names: desert fox and Nubian ibex, many reptilian species, the small hyrax (a sort of guinea pig) and the occasional gazelle, and many birds, especially in the coastal regions. Plant life is similarly resilient: date palms in especially fertile oases and even mangroves in the fertile delta of the Wadi Kid, but otherwise mostly acacia trees and other desert vegetation. As any photo of the land reveals in an instant, it is stone that dominates the landscape of Sinai, though that stone seems at times to carry as much lively color as any rainforest canopy. However, the landscape of Sinai is only half of the story--equally magnificent is the world that lies off its coast, the coral reefs of the Red Sea.

 

Sinai in the Bible

So begins one of the Bible's most memorable sagas, the 40-year wanderings of Moses and the Israelites through the vast and barren prison of Sinai. No story has done more to put Sinai on the map than Exodus, and for many, a visit to the land where manna fell from heaven and Moses received the Ten Commandments is nothing short of a pilgrimage.

Most of the places mentioned in Exodus are unknown. Where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, where they first set foot in Sinai and even the location of biblical Mt. Sinai itself is the subject of relentless argument among scholars, historians, and theologians. Exodus may have put Sinai on the map, but putting Exodus back into a geographical context is an unfinished labor that often involves sifting through desert sands and Old Testament manuscripts for minute clues.

There are three main theories as to the route the Israelites used when they crossed into Sinai. The first has Moses and his tribes moving out of Egypt past modern-day Suez, then crossing into Sinai near Ain Musa. The second places the crossing further south, near a place called Ain Sukna. The third and most popular theory focuses on the north and the Nile Delta region. This region is far richer in pastures, water, and manna-producing tamarisk trees, and it also would have been the safest: the southern routes would have taken the Israelites dangerously close to Pharaoh's turquoise and copper mines, which were heavily garrisoned.

However the Israelites entered Sinai, the mystery of where they roamed once they got there is even greater. Central to the story of the wanderings is the location of Mt. Sinai, the sacred height where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Within the Sinai Peninsula itself, there are so many possibilities that a rigorous study could only narrow the search to 20 peaks. Wherever the "real Mt. Sinai" is, it is indisputable that Southern Sinai's Gebel Musa ("Mountain of Moses") carries enormous spiritual and historical significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In the 4th century AD, Coptic Christians came to the mountain and founded a small church at the spot where it was believed God spoke to Moses in the form of the burning bush. Later on, the site evolved into St. Catherine's Monastery, revered by many as one of the most sacred places on Earth.

It may take years before any solid, physical traces of Exodus can be found. Moses and the Israelites were wanderers here, not builders of cities. But if they were in Sinai for four decades then they undoubtedly saw quite a bit of it. They passed through the wadis and drank from the desert wells. The ancient trails they must have walked are the same ones denizens of the Sinai have been walking for eons. The physical evidence may be long gone, but the landscape and the story are eternal and inseparable.

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