Believed to have been originally constructed in the 4th century A.D., 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. It is thought to be the site where St. Anthony once lived in a cave and is situated 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 A.D., additional land was added to the monastery, increasing its area to almost three acres. High walls and watchtowers were built around it to protect it from the Bedouins, giving it the appearance of a fortress. Today these walls are 12 meters high and two 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 limestones. 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 the biggest monastery in Egypt today. It now covers an area of more than 18 acres including a huge garden with trees, fruits, and vegetables.
The Church of St. Anthony
Dating from the 4th Century, this church is rectangular in shape and measures 20 meters by 10 meters. It is divided into four sections: one for the monks, another for the priests, a third for bishops, and the fourth for the elderly monks. All 4 parts are covered with 3 huge and lovely 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 into 4 sections, each of which is covered with a dome. It is connected to the Church of St. Anthony by a small corridor.
The Church Of The Virgin
This church is built on the second floor of the monastery. It is relatively small in size and is divided into three sections, each section separated from each other by a wooden grille.
The New Church
The New Church dates back to the 19th Century A.D. and is the newest and biggest building in the monastery. It has 12 rooms and was built with modern architectural elements. The monks rarely use it for prayer, however, as the church is not fully orientated towards the east in keeping with Coptic beliefs.
The monastery once had an enormous library full of books and manuscripts. Unfortunately, most of this treasure of manuscripts was plundered by many 5th-century European expeditions who wanted to fill the big cathedrals of Europe with manuscripts. It was estimated that all that was left in the library was around 1,000 books, which were transferred to Cairo for safety.
This was a sanctuary fort for the monks in times of raids and danger. It was built in the 6th century A.D. and covers an area of 200 square meters. It has three floors and the only door is located on the second floor. This made it difficult to break into and offered more safety in dangerous historical times.
The guesthouse was built in the 19th Century and consists of 4 rooms and a long hall. It is equipped with lots of furniture and facilities and is a great place to stay.