This Issue is : 04-2014

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Sinai…The Land of Turquoise

SinaiThe Land of Turquoise
The Sinai Peninsula is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about 60,000 km2 (23,000 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, and the ancient Egyptians called it Mafkat, or "land of the green minerals. Sinai was inhabited by the Monitu and was called Mafkat or Country of Turquoise.

From the time of the First dynasty or before, the Egyptians mined turquoise in Sinai at two locations, now called by their Arabic names “Wadi Maghareh” and “Serabit el-Khadim”. The mines were worked intermittently and on a seasonal basis for thousands of years. Modern attempts to exploit the deposits have been unprofitable.

These may be the first historically attested mines. According to the Jewish tradition the peninsula was crossed by the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt as detailed in the Hebrew Bible. This included numerous halts over a 40 year period of travel in AM 2448 (1313 BCE) in the Jewish tradition.

However, there has not been found any archaeological evidence for large scale nomadic wanderings from that time period. The peninsula was governed as part of Egypt under the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt from 1260 until 1517, when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the First, defeated the Egyptians at the Battles of Marj Dabiq and al-Raydaniyya, and incorporated Egypt into the Ottoman Empire.

From then until 1906, Sinai was administered by the Ottoman provincial government of the Pashalik of Egypt, even following the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty's rule over the rest of Egypt in 1805. In 1906, the Ottoman Porte formally transferred administration of Sinai to the Egyptian government, which essentially meant that it fell under the control of the United Kingdom, who had occupied and largely controlled Egypt since 1882. The border imposed by the British runs in an almost straight line from Rafah on the Mediterranean shore to Taba on the Gulf of Aqaba. This line has served as the eastern border of Egypt ever since.

There are moments in Sinai when one feels as if the history of all the 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. All three of the West's great religious traditions--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, and according to the Biblical, Moses was wandering for many decades in the region of Sinai. It is believed that - leading approx. half a million Israelites - at Mount Sinai God spoke to Moses. This is also the place that has drawn pilgrims for more than a thousand years, and also Virgin Mary with her child Jesus Christ crossed Sinai escaping from and coming back to Palestine. 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.
Written By: Dr.Ali Taha