The desert stretches close to the shores on the Nile’s west bank at Aswan. Situated in this uninhabited location is the Monastery of St Simeon. The Coptic monks established it in the 17th century. The monastery was first dedicated to Saint Anba Hedra. After its reconstruction in the 10th century, it was dedicated to Saint Simeon.
A ten-meter high wall surrounds the mud-brick and stone structure, giving it a fortress-like appearance. The impressive walls protect the monks from threats and even the Bedouin raiders. Sadly, troops of Saladin destroyed part of the monastery in 1173. St. Simeon Monastery was never rebuilt after the attack. It was abandoned in the 13th century.
The monastery housed about three hundred monks. It provided accommodation for around a hundred pilgrims. Inside the monastery complex are the church and other structures that are necessary for the monks’ simple lives. From their quiet abode in the desert, the monks went on a missionary journey to Nubia. Their goal was to convert the locals to Christianity.
Despite the long period of disuse, it is well-preserved. The basilica and monks’ cells still create an atmosphere of monastic life. The ruins of the monastery are part of the rich history of the Egyptians.
Why You Should Visit the Monastery of St Simeon
Though the monastery has been abandoned, there are interesting things you can see at the site. The bench beds used by the monks are still in the cells. There are still traces of wall painting at the basilica. Also, the walls of the last pilgrim room on the right have graffiti on them. The graffiti was daubed by a Muslim pilgrim who stayed in the monastery before it was attacked.
Besides, you can explore Saint Simeon’s chamber. Legend has it that he spent several hours each time praying in the room. During long prayer sessions, he used to attach his beard to the ceiling. A tug on the fastened beard will wake him if he fell asleep during prayers. And if you are a history or Christian student, you will find the monastery ruins interesting. You will have the opportunity to learn more about Coptic Christianity.
Besides the monastery, there are other interesting sites to visit on the island. You can also visit the Tombs of the Nobles. It is the site of ancient Egyptian tombs of the Old Kingdom. The Tombs of the Nobles is the burial place of the Old and Middle dignitaries of Swenet, an ancient town of Elephantine Island. However, there are also tombs from the Roman era at the site. What to expect on a visit to the Monastery of St Simeon.
Visitors can take a ferry or hire a private boat for a ride to the Nile’s west bank. On arrival at the island, you will see locals with camels for hire. You can either hire a camel or walk up the track to get to the monastery. If you want to hire a camel, negotiate for a good rate with the owner. Let the person know how long you will use the camel.
However, hiring a camel will enable you to reach other attraction sites on the island aside from the monastery ruins.
What to Do When You Visit
Though the monastery has been deserted, you can explore the structures. The site is worth the visit. You will see the monks’ cells, where they cook, and the church. You will also have a feel of the calm atmosphere which the monks sought in the desert. You can also have a look at the traces of frescoes at the church and the graffiti on the walls of one of the pilgrims’ rooms.
The monastery is a beautiful site and ruins are well-preserved. The view of the fortress-like monastery as you approach it is breathtaking. Inside the monastery complex, you will have fun clambering over the ruins as you explore the site. The ruins will leave you imagining the simple life the monks lived at the monastery years ago.
The Monastery of St Simeon is not the only attraction on the island. You can also visit the Aga Khan Mausoleum and the Tombs of the Noble. The magnificent mausoleum perched on a hill on the west bank. The building displays loyalty and adds to the history of the island. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public.
Located at the foothills on the west bank are royal tombs known as the Tombs of the Nobles. These tombs have cryptic messages written on them. They also have paintings about life in ancient times. You can easily visit other sites on the island if you hire a camel.
You can join one of our guided tours in Aswan, visit all of these amazing sites, and get your an unforgettable experience.