skyline high mountains

About Sinai


logo away away

AWAY AWAY
for sinai insights

 

 

 

 

The Sinai Peninsula, with a surface area of 61.000 km2 (200 km E -W, 380 km N-S), connects the two continents Africa and Asia . It is surrounded on 3 sides by sea. On the North the Mediterranean Sea, on the East the Gulf of Aqaba, on the West the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Channel.

 

History

Because of its position the Sinai has since early times been a transit corridor between Egypt and Palestine and between the Empires of Africa and Asia . It was the route for Islamic pilgrims to Mecca, the trade route between Africa and Asia, and also a route for Crusaders. The most important route was the Via Maris, following the Mediterranean coastline. Along this route many archaeological finds have been made. The pilgrims to Mecca used a different route: the Darb el Hagg, which is now the road from Taba to Suez.

Of course the Sinai wasn't only a thorough way. From the Stone Age people were living in the Sinai. Remnants have been found of an ancient nomadic people (called the Timna), Nabateans (whose capital was Petra in Jordan ), and Etruscans. In Pharaonic times the Sinai was of importance due to copper and turquoise mining. The Exodus, most probably having taken place during the reign of Ramsis II or Merenptah (1298 - 1230 BC) was to place Sinai on the map for pilgrims of the 3 religions (Muslims, Jews, Christians), but mainly for Christians. Many settled down in the area of St. Katherine and Feran for longer or shorter period.

 

Geology

Geologically Sinai is a young formation of the earth's crust. 40 million years ago (late Eocene) an enormous fault movement formed the great African Rift Valley and the Red Sea with its 2 gulfs. The peninsula became separated from the Arab o-Nubian massif. The peninsula is a tilted plate in the earth's crust that slopes downward to the North and is uplifted in the South. A drive across the Sinai is a journey through its geological history (from 1 billion years to the present):

In the south erosion uncovers ancient formations. The high mountain area shows the oldest history on earth for erosion has exposed the roots of the mountain: Precambrian rocks rose as melted magma 1000 million years ago.

Further to the north, quaternary sandstone formations are broken up by numerous outcroppings of limestone from the Tertiary and Eocene period, which also makes up the Tih Plateau.

Along the Mediterranean coast the landscape consists mostly of sand dunes and quaternary deposits (ancient riverbeds and fossil beaches formed by the changing sea level during the glacial and interglacial periods). North western winds have driven sand from the Sahara across the Mediterranean Sea thus forming sand dunes 25-50 km wide.

 

People and Environment

Sinai's real desert inhabitants are the Bedouins who wander through the desert as nomads or semi-nomads. The term Bedouin is not a name for a specific people but characterises a way of life, the Arabic word Bedawi means desert inhabitant. Nowadays, Bedouins are not the only inhabitants of the Sinai. Mainly due to tourism more and more non-bedouins come to work and live in the Sinai. Under the increasing influence of foreign neighbours and tourism most of the Bedouins give up the traditional way of life.

 

Bedouins were originally camel breeders and nomads. The Bedouins were well adapted to desert life, knowing where to find water in which period of time, which plants are edible, have medicinal purposes, are poisonous or are intoxicating and where these plants can be found.

But due to influences from outside Bedouin life is changing and they are not as much one with the desert.

Water can be bought, pick-up trucks are exchanged for camels, and camels are only used for tourist treks. Also the knowledge of plants and their use is disappearing. Tourism has become one of the important means of living for many Bedouins. What the Bedouins have kept is the craving for freedom and independency.

Bedouins are divided into tribes according to their different origins, but all claiming to go back to the 12 sons of Ishmael, the son of Abraham. An exception is the Jabaliya tribe from the St Katherine area. Their ancestors were brought to the Sinai by Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century from Romania and Alexandria to build and protect the Monastery.

At present there are 6 tribes in South Sinai , each claiming a certain area.

 

Flora & Fauna

Soil and Climate determine the occurrence and spread of plant & animal species. In total there are approximately 900 plant species in the Sinai, including 34 endemic species found only in the Sinai.

The small number of species is a direct consequence of the harsh climate of the Sinai: minimal rainfall, high day temperatures, extreme variation between day and night temperatures, strong winds. The plants consequently have large root systems ( some up to 35 m or more), small thick leaves to minimize evaporation, water storage systems (many plants are shaped to collect sand, building there own little sand dunes).

Observation of flora and fauna make clear that the Sinai is a genuine land bridge between Africa and Eurasia . Here plant species from 4 major neighbouring regions mix. Most belong to the Sahara-Arabian region. From Africa comes for example the acacia and caper bush. Only a few species from the Mediterranean are found.

The Sinai has an interesting mixture of fauna:

From the Palearctic region: wolves, foxes, ibexes, dormice, partridges and rock doves

From tropical Africa : grackle, bulbul, sun bird, rock hyrax and in former times the ostrich. Leopards, only recently extinct, as well as hyenas and jackals crossed the land bridge to Asia. There is still a small population of hyena's in the environs of St. Katherine.

 

Marine Life

Like every living thing coral makes demands on its environment and if one major condition is not met it will not be able to survive.

Warm, clear, sun flooded, nutrient poor seawater (water temp. not less than 18 - 20 º C), and a hard seabed are some of these conditions for coral life.

In the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba these conditions are met. A deep rift ( dept 1800 m) split the old basement complex in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba , creating a hard bottom surface for corals. In the Gulf of Suez on the other hand the sea is shallow (max. dept 80 m) and sand covers any young coral growth.

Coral reefs constitute of the richest eco-systems on earth. But like elsewhere the coral reefs along the coast of the Sinai are being threatened.

Climate change, a growing tourist industry (and thus a growing pressure of recreational diving and a growing influx of nutrient rich sewage water) and over-fishing along and on the reef: All these factors together give the reef little time to recuperate. Don't forget that coral grows only a few centimetres a year!

 

Climate

The Sinai is a desert environment therefore there is little rainfall throughout the year. Most rain falls inland in the winter and spring months. The air humidity is low, so even the extreme heat in the summer is bearable. Along the coast, mainly in Dahab and El Tor there is on most days a cool breeze from the sea. In Sharm el Sheikh the wind usually comes from overland, bringing a warm desert wind.

 

St Katherine high mountain region:

Best in spring and autumn;

Summer is hot but bearable, the evenings are cool

Winter is very cold, especially at night

 

Tips for travelers:

Inland desert:

Best in spring, autumn and winter (the nights can be very cold in winter)

Summer is too hot. Even the Bedouins move to the coast in the summer

 

Coast:

Spring, autumn and winter perfect. The water temperature is around 19 º C in the winter, 24 º in summer

Summer is hot but the sea is always nearby for a cooling dip

 

For more information contact us at: katherine@awayaway-sinai.net or call 00 20 1222270443

Also visit us on: