Egypt Travel - Aswan: Monastery of St. Simeon

The Monastery of St. Simeon
(Deir Amba Samaan)

See our Feature Article on The Monastery of St. Simeon

This abandoned monastery near the Aga Khan Mausoleum on the west bank at Aswan is considered to be notably typical of early Christian Monasteries, and was one of the largest Coptic Monasteries in Egypt, with perhaps thousands of residents. It was begun in the 6th century, but it is believed that most building took place in the 7th century. It was first dedicated to Amba Hadra (Amba Samaan, Anba Hadra) , a bishop of Aswan and saint of the late 4th century. It was said that just after his wedding, he encountered a funeral procession which inspired him to live the remainder of his life as a hermit (Editor's Note: We wonders if his new wife thought he was a saint).

This fortress Christian monastery originally had walls ten meters tall, with keeps or towers which were used as lookout posts against enemies, and two levels. The lower level of stone is mostly intact, but he upper level of mud-brick has all but vanished. The monastery was rebuilt in the 10th century, but destroyed in 1173 by Saladin who feared that it might serve as a refuge of marauding Christian Nubians who made forays into southern Egypt.

This site has never been systematically excavated, but religious functions where centered in the lower part of the site, while living quarters and working areas were in the upper. Thick walled keeps or towers served as lookout posts, and as a last line of defense in case the outer walls were overrun. In the lower level there is some remains of early Coptic paintings on the walls. Arches within the keep also demonstrate an early form of ventilation.