Yesterday was one of my rare and treasured escapes from computer and office, as photographing tourist destinations for my work took me to Taba. An hour by bus from Nuweiba, I previously stopped in Taba only to cross the border to Israel (many years ago), or passed through on the bus that runs between Cairo and Nuweiba. Thanks to in-transit glimpses from the buses, I have been itching to really explore there. Now I have lived in Sinai for 10 months and I should have found time to do this sooner, especially as the short trip costs under $3 Australian each way, and as the bus leaves Nuweiba at the reasonable hour of 9am and I was back on my doorstep at 4.30pm.
This time I caught the bus and asked the driver to let me out at the Fjord, not an official stop, but drivers here will let you out and pick you up in the middle of nowhere, then I walked 15km to Taba. It was a gentle walk, stopping many times to photograph and for a swim and snorkeling at one of the beaches which in some places are easy to access from the mountain road.
I really should have gone in summer, because while it is now more comfortable (30 degrees) for walking the road through the Sinai mountains, the intense blue skies and sparkling turquoise-blue sea have begun to fade into winter’s flat blue-gray. Also the wind, which cooled me as I walked, had the disadvantage of making it difficult in some locations to take photos without camera shake. Still I feel you can get some idea of how beautiful this area is from these photos and video. I hope to return and tour the Citadel which has recently been reopened, and enjoy some more snorkeling near the island, but that is for another day…
While the intent of this trip was work, the long walk and being close to nature all day, surrounded by mountains and the Red Sea, helped my mind expand and calmed my heart.
short video of Fjord bay and Citadel
The Saladin Citadel on Pharaoh Island, near Taba in South Sinai, is open to tourists after a LE20 million restoration project. Over the last six years, the citadel and island were closed to tourists.
To decrease the amount of sea water flooding the citadel, cement wave breakers were constructed in the sea around the citadel. The external walls were made stronger and other structures repaired.
Signboards with historical information were added to enhance understanding and appreciation of the site. Also new are wooden sun shades, and a lighting system to make the citadel accessible at night. There are plans for cultural activities and dancing performances to take place on the island, with the citadel acting as impressive backdrop, to give visitors optional experiences there.
Pharaoh Island, also called Coral Island or Geziret Faroun, is located 8 kilometers south of Taba and 250 meters off the coast. The Phoenicians were the first to make use of the island’s natural harbor during the 10th century BC, to foster trade with Egypt.
The location of the fortress provided control of the traffic between the three banks of the Gulf of Aqaba: from the north coming from Palestine and Syria, from the east from the Arab Peninsula and from the west from Sinaï and from Egypt. It was important from at least the Byzantine era, the remains of a Byzantine church from the time of Justinian VI are still visible.
It became more important during the Muslim period with the development of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and when the Christian kingdoms were set up in Palestine and Syria in 1099. The Crusaders built a fortress there and exacted a ransom from passing pilgrims. Saladin (Salah ad-din al Ayyubi), founder of the Ayyubid dynasty and sultan of Egypt, seized Aqaba and the fortress in 1171. He ordered that the fortress be consolidated and redeveloped. When the Crusades came to an end (1291) and a pilgrims’ road was built passing through Eilat, it lost its importance and may even have been abandoned.
During the crusading period, the citadel played an important role in protecting the Sinai Peninsula from invasion. It was capable of a withstanding a long siege, with water tanks built into the rock. It includes a furnace for producing weapons, a soldiers’ barracks, a bakery, mill and bathroom.
In addition to the attractions of the citadel, Pharaoh Island offers magnificent views of the Red Sea and the coral reefs near it provide rewarding snorkeling and diving.
This year Egyptian film El Maslaha focused its story in Sinai, and the citadel features in some exciting scenes. The film is based on the realities of the ongoing battles between the police and the drug dealers of the area.
Near Taba is Fjord bay, also featured in the video and slideshow above. My next post will bring you more about that magical place…