The Sinai Peninsula, which now as in ancient days, forms an integral part of the Egyptian Territory, is but a very small dot on the map of the world. It is however, the point where three continents meet. It has witnessed some of the greatest events in the world's history, and has been the subject of a vast and exhaustive study, and of many conflicting
By reason of its geographical position, Sinai was, from remote days, the route of many armies that passed through this area, bent on the conquest of Egypt, including invasions of Syria and Palestine. Since 17th November 1869, the date of the inauguration of the Suez Canal, Sinai has become literally dissected from the Mother Land and has become more and more important from the military point of view.
Sinai is wrongly referred to in many books as a barren desert - it is not entirely so. Streams of fresh water, springing from clefts in the rock, are found at about 25 kilometers intervals. There are also small oases, where date palms grow along the banks of running streams. Wheat, barley and all sorts of fruit trees are cultivated, and there are trees and rare flowers.
according to the Biblical narrative, leading the Israelites, wandered for about forty years in the Sinai region. They are said to have been between 400,000 and 600,000 in number, a ridiculously exaggerated number, as the whole population of Egypt at that time is
thought to be around 600,000.
(exodus conditions). They were able to provide themselves with at least the necessary quantity of food and water. This suggests that their route at the foot of the mountain land was fairly fertile. The date of the wandering of the Israelites in Sinai is supposed to be between 1450 and 1350 BC.
Sinai had a definite pre-history, which is vouched for by the many remains of ancient settlements and temples, as well as inscriptions found there. The oldest remains of settlements in North Sinai have been dated to 32,000 years BCE and earliest proof of expansion from the Nile Valley dates to 8000 BC.
Certain inscriptions prove that Sinai was occupied at a time corresponding to the first Egyptian Dynasty (3200 BC) but some of the mines may date still further back. The rocks of the Sinai give some evidence to the personal power and activity of the Pharaohs, as the greater monarchs, from the 1st Dynasty onwards, left inscriptions there recording conquests or expeditions sent to the mines and quarries
The earliest of these inscriptions is that of King Den of the 1st Dynasty who is represented slaying a conquered Bedouin chieftain. King Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty is represented in Wadi Maghara. King Cheops of the 4th Dynasty is also represented there and we may presume that the expeditions sent by him were for the purpose of obtaining copper for the enormous number of tools that must have been needed for the quarrying of stone for the Great Pyramid.
There are monuments of Amenemhat IV. Between 1500 and 1400 BC Queen Hatshepsut and Thuthmoses III opened the mines, which had been closed for several hundreds of years and many of their successors carried on the work there, and made profits out of the copper and the turquoise which were found there and were highly prized. During this period the
Proto Sinaitic script was born through the early contacts between Egyptians of the Nile Valley and the native population of Sinai. The Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty were very active in this area. They erected temples and monuments there to the glory of
Hathor - our lady of the turquoise land - and established barracks for the workers and guards of the mines.
After the 20th Dynasty no royal inscriptions are found at Sinai. The absence of royal inscriptions perhaps suggests that the working of the copper mines of Sinai was no longer a government monopoly, but even so the reason is wanting.
From about 1200 BC until the beginning of the Christian Era nothing of importance is known about the Sinai.
In the course of Sinai's known history, there have been nearly fifty invading armies moving either from or to Egypt. The Hyksos, a mixed nomadic horde from western Asia, crossed Sinai when they invaded Egypt in 2500 BC. It was during the
Hyksos period that horses and chariots were introduced into Egypt, a fact that lends color to the Asiatic origins of the invaders, and indicates that their route lay through the Sinai. During their occupation no trace of Egyptian activity in the mines and quarries of Sinai has been found.
For the next 2500 years many more invading armies marched across Sinai from east and from west, and in crossing the wilderness they met with no particular hardships, or loss of men through thirst, thanks to the many wells and springs of fresh water.
In 332 BC the victorious troops of Alexander the Great passed through Sinai on their way to the conquest of the rest of Egypt, but during the Roman period Sinai does not figure to any great extent except for the fact that when Pompey the Great fled from Julius Caesar, he landed at Galas, and was there assassinated by Achillas.
Since the dawn of Christianity, Sinai has had its chapter in history. There are records of the existence of churches and cathedrals, as well as monasteries in the wilderness. Some of these churches still stand intact, while the ruined traces of others are to be seen
specially in the oases of Feran, 60 kms. west of
St. Catherine's Monastary.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries many Egyptian monks and anchorites settled there. The selection of Sinai as a retreat was partly due to the fact that it was the supposed site of the law-giving and wanderings of Israelites, and partly because it was outside the sphere of Roman influence and Christians could practice their religion without fear of persecution. St Catherine monastery
was one such habitat that grew out of this influence.
In Wadi Feran where a spring of water gushes from a cliff, a cathedral city was created, and at the foot of Moses Mountain a great convent was founded.
who criss crossed the Sinai as merchants,
bringing goods from east to west and vice versa,
left the inscriptions all over the place
During the 11th century AD the Arabs invaded Egypt and also penetrated Sinai, with the result that most of the inhabitants were converted to
Islam. Sinai did not play a very important part in the crusades, except as the highway linking Egypt and Palestine. In 1182 AD
Saladin marched across Sinai, entering Transjordan by the
Aqaba route .
Jerusalem fell into his hands
in 1187 AD.
In 1517 AD Sultan Selim, the Turk, invaded Egypt by way of the Sinai coast. He built many fortresses there and garrisoned them with Moorish soldiers, who were charged with the protection of pilgrims. Descendants of this race still exist in Aqaba.
The next invasion of any importance to pass through the Sinai was that of Napoleon,
who laid siege to the
Fortress of El Arish in 1799 AD. The Turks, advancing from Palestine against Napoleon's forces, laid siege to the Fortress
and retook it, and the final
capitulation of the French troops, took place on August
In 1831 Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mohamed Ali Pasha, founder of the last Royal Dynasty of Egypt, advanced through Sinai and defeated the Turkish army at Acre, while during the First World War Sinai was crossed by many Turkish patrols in their attack upon Egypt.
In modern times, after the rape of
Palestine by the British and the
Zionist movement ,an
illegitimate Jewish state was established
in Palestine and Sinai was occupied twice by the invading Israeli forces in their attempt to fulfill the
Zionist dream of Eretz Israel (from the Nile to the Euphrates). In 1956, during the Tripartite aggression on Egypt by the combined forces of Britain, France and Israel, Israel briefly occupied the Sinai Peninsula for a couple of months but was later returned to Egypt under United Nations supervision. Nine years later during the Six Day War, in 1967, Sinai, along with other Arab lands, was once more occupied by the Israelis for 15 years.