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Monastery Of St. Simeon

Aswan, Egypt

The gloriously photogenic Monastery of St. Simeon sits between the sand dunes on the Nile's West Bank. Founded in the 7th century and finally abandoned in the 13th century due to water shortages, it's one of the largest and best preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt.

Inside the monastery courtyard, an aisled Basilica takes up the southern side of the monastery. At the east end of the wide nave, once covered by two domes, is the large apse, with three rectangular niches under semi domes. In the central niche are the remains of a fresco depicting Christ enthroned between angels. To the north and west of the church are various subsidiary buildings and small grottoes, while the eastern side is made up of living quarters. Upstairs, are some more well-preserved barrel-vaulted living quarters, including the monk cells, with brick beds and Coptic and Arabic inscriptions upon the walls.

Standing on the monastery's fortified walls, overlooking the undulating dunes gives some sense of the isolation the monks who lived here must have faced. Today, you can hire a boat or felucca to take you to the monastery boat landing and then either hike or take a camel ride (30 minutes) into the sand to get here.

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