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While the Monastery of St Catherine and Mt Sinai are well known sites, this comes as a surprise to most people: there are hundreds of ancient Bedouin orchards, or gardens, in the high mountain “wadis” (valleys) around St. Catherine, many well over a thousand years old, dating back as far as the early Byzantine era. Unfortunately most of the gardens have been abandoned, but there are still many that are cared for to some extent, and around two dozen exceptional ones that are open to receive visitors. Apart from the cultivated traditional orchard and vegetable garden enclosed within the robust dry stone walls, there are also comfortable resting areas for guests (open “arisha” and room), and in several gardens also a basic shower and toilet. All that these places need is little upgrades and fixing existing problems, and they can be viewed as simple “mini-ecolodges”, connected by a network of ancient mountain trails.

The gardening tradition of the high mountains of Sinai has its origin in ealy Byzantine times when there were many monks, hermits and settlers from the Mediterranean living in the region. The high altitude made it possible to grow species not found elswhere in Egypt, although growing them in a desert environment required different techinques. The way gardens are built and the water management system are designed to withstand the strong flash floods that sweep through the region at times, and at the same time to harvest as much water as possible. The gardeners also grafted high yielding fruit species on native trees, providing the local plant's root system to support fruit varieties that otherwise wouldn't survive in this harsh environment. The local Bedouin groups and especially the Jabaleya tribe has taken over this very unique orchard farming tradition, which still lives on today.

Plants grown in the Sinai high mountains:

Fruit trees: Almond Apple Apricot Dates Fig Peach Pear Plum Pomegranate Quince

Other plants: Olives Grapes Vegetables Salad greens Tobaco (local variety)

There is also a wide range of wild medicinal and aromatic herbs in the area, some of them are simetimes grown in gardens, such as habaq (mountain mint), mardagush and zatar (oregano).

Map of gardens

Blue symbol: attraction; Green symbol: garden, nature lodge

List of gardens

Garden of Sbeh Abu Darwish

Garden of Farhan Abu Karsh

Garden of Mohamed Hashash

Garden of Omriya (Umm Saad)

Garden of Hemid Abu Ghalaba

Garden of Hussein Abu Tarawa

Garden of Farhan Abu Lheim

Garden of Hussein Abu Gneim

Garden of Mohamed and Awad Abu Heb

Garden of Salem Faraj

Garden of Mohamed Abu Ghalaba

Garden of Hussein Abu Ghalaba

Garden of Saad Diguni

Garden of Sharaha Abu Aluan

Garden of Ibrahim Diguni

Garden of Shob Abu Krishan

Garden of Faraj Ahmed

Garden of Nasr Diguni

Garden of Dr Ahmed (El Helwa Garden)

Garden of the Abu Aluan family (El Freish)

Garden of the Hussein Hashash family

List of eco- and nature lodges

Al-Karm Ecolodge

Eid Lodge

Mohammed Musa's Camel School

El Magareen Lodge

Mt Sinai Ecolodge

Lists were compiled in 2019 and some photos are even older.

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