Travel Regrets: Missing the Monastery

The lovely Robin and I traveled in Egypt in 2010, before the Arab Spring and uprisings in Egypt in early 2011. It was a wonderful trip, during which we visited the pyramids, the Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings, and so much more. I'm so glad we went.

But I do have a regret. I wish that I had planned and pressed to visit a Coptic monastery while in country. One of the most impressive is in Cairo: the Monastery of St. Simon the Tanner (above).

Saint Simon the Tanner (St. Sama'an, in Arabic) lived towards the end of the tenth century. At the time, the Copts (Egyptian Christians) engaged in handicrafts. St. Simon worked as a tanner, a craft still practiced today.

The monastery was erected and dedicated to him a thousand years after his death, behind "Mansheiyet Nasser," the village of garbage collectors. This village was created in 1969 when the Governor decided to move all the garbage collectors of Cairo to one of the hills of the Mokattam. There, they built themselves primitive houses of tin, and tens of thousands live there now.

The monastery contains seven churches and chapels hidden in a series of caves in the Mokattam (Muqattam) hills, one of which is pictured below:

It may not have been possible, though my tour company has always bent over backward to respond to such requests. Reaching the monastery is reportedly quite an ordeal. It must be reached through narrow village streets, navigating past trash carts piled high with garbage, plastics, and tins.

But I wish I had at least tried. It might have been as close as I come to another dream, and that is to visit St. Catherine's, the world's oldest monastery on the slopes of the traditional Mount Sinai, in the Sinai peninsula.

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