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Serabit el-Khadem, Sinai Desert

Serabit el-Khadem, Sinai Desert

Archaeologists have found that the very earliest known settlers in the Sinai--they arrived about 8,000 years ago--were miners. Drawn by the region's abundant copper and turquoise deposits, these groups slowly worked their way southward, hopping from one deposit to the next. By 3500 BC, the great turquoise veins of Serabit el-Khadem had been discovered.


At the same time, the kingdoms of Egypt became united under its first pharaohs, and these great rulers soon turned their eye eastward. By about 3000 BC the Egyptians had become masters of the Sinai mines, and at Serabit el-Khadem they set up a large and systematic operation. For the next two thousand years, great quantities of turquoise were carved from Serabit el-Khadem, carried down the Wadi Matalla to the garrisoned port at el-Markha (just south of Abu Zenima), and set aboard boats bound for Egypt. For the Egyptians, the brilliant blue-green stone served myriad purposes: scarabs were carved from it, and the bright mineral enamels of powdered turquoise were used to color everything from fine statuettes to bricks. To mine the turquoise, the Egyptians would hollow out large galleries in the mountains, carving at the entrance to each a representation of the reigning pharaoh--a symbol of the authority of the Egyptian state over the mine and its yield. Although many of the region's pharaonic reliefs were destroyed by a British attempt to re-open the mines in the mid-nineteenth century, the excellent bas relief of Pharaoh Sekhemkhet on the east face of Gebel Maghara survives. Also at Serabit el-Khadem are the ruins of a temple dedicated to Hathor, containing a large number of bas-reliefs and carved steles.
Serabit el-Khadem, Sinai Desert, Sharm El Sheikh
Tourist Information:
Serabit el-Khadim is not particularly easy to get to unless you know where to look. It is not a major tourist destination. While its pharaonic ruins are not so spectacular, compared to those in the Nile Valley, its remoteness and rugged beauty make it a very worthwhile trip. There are a number of plinths, large cartouches, and stone baboons. The road barely is marked and is not paved from the main shore highway along the Gulf of Suez to the site. The climb to the temple from the dirt road is a moderately steep one and the temple can be reached in less than two hours, but is difficult in summer when temperatures can approach 50°C. There is no water (other than local wells) or other facilities. If attempting to go there bring lots of water. The local tribes are responsible for protecting the site from looting and are open to assisting tourists and hiring out as guides.

Last Updated on Wednesday 22nd December 2010