Believed to have been originally constructed in the 4th century AD, the Monastery of St. Anthony is located at the foot of Khelsm Mountain overlooking the Red Sea. It is almost 12 km south of Zafarana city, and is thought to be the site is where St. Anthony once lived in a cave, next to a well. St. Anthony was the first monk to move to this wilderness and the first to create a monastic community in Coptic Egypt.
During the 9th century AD, additional land was added to the monastery, increasing its area to almost 3 acres. High walls and watchtowers were built around it to protected from the Bedouins, giving it the appearance of a fortress. Today these walls are 12 meters high and 2 meters wide. First time visitors to the monastery often wonder why the walls were constructed using mud bricks, especially as the area has plenty of limestone. This was actually an excellent choice by the builders, who noticed that the extreme differences in temperature between day and night, summer and winter, could easily erode the limestone: they used mud bricks so it would last. This is the reason that so much of the wall is still intact today.
The Monastery of St. Anthony is today the biggest monastery in Egypt. It now covers an area of more than 18 acres including a huge garden with trees, fruits and vegetables.
The main parts of the Monastery:
The Church of St. Anthony
Dating from the 4th Century, this church is rectangular in shape and measures 20 metres by 10 metres. It is divided into 4 sections: one for the monks, another for the priests, a third for bishops, and the forth for the elderly monks. All 4 parts are covered with 3 huge domes.
The Church of the Apostles
This is a little church with 3 altars. Like the main church, it also is rectangular in shape, and is divided in to 4 sections, each of which is covered with a dome. It is connected to the Church of St. Anthony by a small corridor.
he Church of the Virgin
Built on the second floor of the monastery, this church is relatively small in size and is divided into 3 sections, each section separated from each other by a wooden grille.
The New Church
Dating back to the 19th century AD, and considered the newest and the biggest building in the monastery. It has 12 rooms, and was built with modern architectural elements. The monks rarely use it for prayer, as the church is not fully orientated towards the east!!
The monastery once had an enormous library full of books and manuscripts. Unfortunately most of the treasure of manuscripts was plundered by the many 5th century European expeditions, which wanted to fill the big cathedrals of Europe with manuscripts. It was estimated that all that was left in the library was around 1000 books, which were transferred to Cairo for safety.
This was a sanctuary fort for the monks in time of raids and danger. It was built in the 6th century AD, covers an area of 200 square metres, and has three floors. The only door is located on the second floor, which made it difficult to break into, offering more safety.
This was built in the 19thcentury; it consisted of 4 rooms and a long hall. It is equipped with lots of furniture and facilities.