There are moments in Sinai when one feels as if the history of all the world can be read in its stones. Indeed, the land here is a monument to the antiquity of life on Earth, from the fossilized reef animals of Ras Mohammed to the mines of El Maghara, whose copper fueled the Bronze Age. In many places visitors from thousands of years ago literally recorded their passage in stone, as at the Rock of Inscriptions near Dahab. And at Serabit El-Khadem, near ancient mining sites, archaeologists have discovered carvings that record the very earliest emergence of our alphabet.

All three of the West's great religious traditions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--know Sinai as a holy land, a vast expanse traversed time and again by prophets, saints, pilgrims, and warriors. Sinai is most familiar to many as the "great and terrible wilderness" through which the Israelites wandered for forty years. However, it was also the path by which Amr swept down into Egypt in 640 AD, bringing Islam in his wake. Even after the muslim conquest, the monks of St. Catherine Monastery (founded in 547 AD) continued to greet pilgrims to the site of the Burning Bush.

Many of the most memorable conquerors have passed through Sinai as well. Alexander the Great crossed at the head of a great army, as did Ramses II, Napoleon Bonaparte, and (in the opposite direction) Salah el-Din. The Arab-Israeli conflicts of this century raged across the Sinai as well, their passage still evident in the ghostly wreckage that marks certain parts of the Suez coast.

In recent years, and for the first time, the history of Sinai seems to be emerging as a story about the land itself--its artifacts, its people, and its extraordinary natural beauty--rather than the story of those who pass through that land. Today, it is the Sinai's brilliant coral reefs, its striking mountains and deserts, and its enormous cultural heritage that hold the future--once again, though in a very different way, the history of Sinai seems to be written in the land itself.

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