Information about Wadi El Natrun

imageWadi El Natrun is a northwest oriented desert depression. Moreover, Wadi El Natrun located about 60 km in the Western Desert near the delta. Wadi El Natrun lies some 23 m below sea level. The lakes fed from the water table of the Nile dot the landscape. Wadi El Natrun also known as area for bird watching. Furthermore, Wadi El Natrun contains a series of nine small lakes. Its total area 200 km, scattered along its general axis. Juncus and Cyperus dominate the wet salt marshes on the waterlogged eastern shores. This creates one of the most characteristic and attractive habitats for water birds.

The history of the Wadi El Natrun and its importance to Coptic Christians, dates back to the 4th century AC. Christianity reached the area with St. Macarius the Great who retreated there in 330 AC. At that time, the monastic life not yet developed. During this period, holy men were hermits, living outside social structures. The reputation of St. Macarius attracted followers and they built cells nearby. They began a loose confederation of monastic communities. Many of these early settlers from Nitria, followed the Christian hermit lifestyle. Hence, Scetis was less a place of innovation than a locus of consolidation.

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In fact, monasticism developed a form of semi anchoritism there. Moreover, hermits lived in cells or caves comprising two or more rooms, one of which functioned as an oratory. A new monk apprenticed himself to an experienced desert father and became his disciple. Monks earned their living by plying crafts, especially basketry and rope making. On Saturday and Sunday the monks go to the church to celebrate Mass. Sometimes they take a Sunday meal in common. In end of the fourth century the of Christian settlers became four monastic communities. They were the monasteries of (old) Baramus, Macarius, Bishoi and John the Little.

Furthermore, the monasteries were collections of individual cells and dwellings which centered on specific churches. They developed into enclosures with walls and watchtowers for protection. That was because, like Nitria and Kellia, Scetis was at times subject to raids from desert nomads. The nomads of the Libyan desert sacked and destroyed the monasteries of Wadi El Naturn in 407, 434 and 444. Indeed, raids at the end of the sixth century almost depopulated the area. The monks built towers to live in. In the ninth century, they erected walls to fortify their monasteries. Many of monks were living outside the walls of the enclosed monasteries. Later on, the monks began to leave their scattered cells to live in the fortified monasteries.

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In fact, in the fourteenth century, monastic life became more cenobitic. That was because the monks went to the enclosure walls for protection. The plague decimated many residents in the monastery during the Middle Ages. The organizations of monks grew up and forced to be together by common needs. Each of the monasteries had a council. One of the council’s responsibilities was to communicate with the external world. The council was also responsible for keeping the general discipline in the monastery. Because of a poll tax on the monks from 705 onward, monasticism began to decline.

Nowadays, four active Monasteries remain at Wadi El Natrun. They are Baramous monastery, St. Bishoi Monastery, St. Makarius monastery and Suryan monastery. The monasteries welcome visitors, irregardless of their faith. The monks are in general friendly. Usually, most of the areas within the monasteries can visited. There is no problem taking photographs most anywhere, including inside the ancient churches. Wadi Naturn is a quick, easy journey from Cairo.

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