The delegation from the tourism ministry was led by Khaled Sarwat, adviser on international relations and supervisor general of international cooperation and treaties department at the ministry, as well as Abu Bakr Ahmed, charge d’affairs for the ministry’s Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities Department.
The delegation from UNESCO was headed by Nuria Sanz, the director of the regional office in Cairo.
They were joined by authorities from the South Sinai governorate and other experts.
The delegation toured the St. Catherine World Heritage Site, located at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt's South Sinai governorate, which was inscribed on the UNESCO list in 2002.
During the visit, the delegation was hosted by the monastic community and took a guided tour of the library, church, monastic dependencies, and surroundings.
The visit aimed to explore potential areas of further collaboration in terms of conservation and management of movable and built heritage of the site to ensure a lasting preservation of its unique treasures, sacred spirit, and daily religious practices.
St. Catherine Monastery
During the visit, the delegation had the privilege of interacting with the monastic community residing in the St. Catherine Monastery, one of the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monasteries in the world.
The monks shared their knowledge of the site's religious and historic significance. They also explained their efforts to restore the library and digitalize the volumes that have been collected there since the eighth century AD.
Between 2014 and 2017, the library’s eastern side was developed, its facade was upgraded, and the Justinian wall, which dates to the sixth century AD, was consolidated and conserved, according to Ahmed.
The library houses religious manuscripts, historical texts, and musical and botanical treaties. The delegation had the opportunity to witness firsthand the preservation efforts undertaken by the monks and development partners to safeguard this precious legacy.
The delegations held constructive discussions with the monastic community and local authorities, recognizing the importance of preserving and promoting the St. Catherine World Heritage Site. The focus was on devising strategies to enhance conservation practices, raise public awareness, and foster sustainable tourism in the region, ensuring the site's long-term preservation
By bringing together an extended list of stakeholders, including governmental bodies, religious institutions, Bedouin tribes, and local authorities, the visit was instrumental in fostering dialogue and identifying collaboration to safeguard the unique heritage of the site.
The stakeholders also agreed on the importance of exchanging experiences and discussing challenges and solutions with other monastic World Heritage sites to preserve religious values.
Great Transfiguration Project
On the second day of the visit, the delegations learned about the objectives, progress, and technical aspects of the Great Transfiguration Project, led by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning and the South Sinai governorate, according to UNESCO.
The project, which has been underway since 2020, promises to turn St. Catherine into a leading destination for religious, environmental, and therapeutic tourism.
It comprises an ambitious plan to improve housing, tourism services, improve roads, and prevent avalanches and floods. New infrastructure, including a large visitor and convention centre, is also being built to improve visitors’ experience.
“The landscaping intervention has been extremely careful with the natural and spiritual environment of the site,” the UNESCO statement said.
The delegation met with representatives of the Bedouin and Coptic communities in the company of technicians from the Misr Sinai company representative from landscape architecture company Sites International, and representatives from the South Sinai governorate. They also met with women artisans and representatives of the Al-Gabaliyah tribe to exchange views on the progress of the project.
The visit also served to identify the needs of the project as it nears completion, and to reinforce coordination between the ministries of housing an antiquities, and local authorities, to improve tourism in a way that is consistent with the site's natural and cultural heritage.
The UNESCO Cairo Regional Office proposed strengthening the project's green policy, especially in sustainable management of water resources, in the use of new clean energy and energy-saving technologies.
They also proposed the establishment of a permanent training centre, such as a UNESCO category II centre. Such centres specialize in interpretation, signage, arts and crafts related to natural and cultural heritage, organization of events and conventions, and generation of local economies involving food products and handicrafts.