The Sinai Peninsula From Ancient Times to Today

The Land of Turquoise is now a tourist destination

sinai space satellite
Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Nile River Delta seen from space. The region was the site of ceaseless raids and counter-raids between 1968 and 1970, the so-called War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel. Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Science Team / NASA

Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, also known as the "Land of Fayrouz" meaning "turquoise," is a triangular formation at the northeastern end of Egypt and the southwestern end of Israel, it looks like a corkscrew-like cap at the top of the Red Sea and forms a land bridge between the Asian and African land masses.


The Sinai Peninsula has been inhabited since pre-historic times and has always been a trade route. The peninsula has been a part of Egypt since the First Dynasty of ancient Egypt, circa 3,100 B.C., although there have been periods of foreign occupation over the past 5,000 years. Sinai was called Mafkat or "country of turquoise" by the ancient Egyptians, which was mined in the peninsula.

In ancient times, like its surrounding regions, it has been the treadmill of evaders and conquerors, including, according to biblical legend, the Jews of Moses' Exodus escaping Egypt and the ancient Roman, Byzantine and Assyrian Empires.


The Suez Canal and the Gulf of Suez border the Sinai Peninsula to the west. Israel's Negev Desert borders it to the northeast and the Gulf of Aqaba laps at its shores to the southeast. The hot, arid, desert-dominated peninsula covers 23,500 square miles. Sinai is also one of the coldest provinces in Egypt because of its high altitudes and mountainous topographies. Winter temperatures in some of Sinai's cities and towns can dip to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Population and Tourism

In 1960, the Egyptian census of Sinai listed a population of about 50,000. Currently, thanks in large part to the tourism industry, the populations is currently estimated at 1.4 million. The peninsula's bedouin population, once the majority, became the minority. Sinai has become a tourist destination due to its natural setting, rich coral reefs offshore and biblical history. Mount Sinai is one of the most religiously significant places in the Abrahamic faiths.

"Rich in pastel cliffs and canyons, arid valleys and startling green oases, the desert meets the sparkling sea in a long string of secluded beaches and vivid coral reefs that attract a wealth of underwater life," wrote David Shipler in 1981, The New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem.

Other popular tourist destinations are St Catherine's Monastery, which is considered to be the oldest working Christian monastery in the world, and the beach resorts towns of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. Most tourists arrive at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, through Eilat, Israel, and the Taba Border Crossing, by road from Cairo or by ferry from Aqaba in Jordan.

Recent Foreign Occupations

In periods of foreign occupation, the Sinai was, like the rest of Egypt, also occupied and controlled by foreign empires, in more recent history the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1867 and the United Kingdom from 1882 to 1956. Israel invaded and occupied Sinai during the Suez Crisis of 1956 and during the Six-Day War of 1967. In 1973, Egypt launched the Yom Kippur War to retake the peninsula, which was the site of fierce fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces. By 1982, as a result of the Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel had withdrawn from all of the Sinai Peninsula except the contentious territory of Taba, which Israel later returned to Egypt in 1989.

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Tristam, Pierre. "The Sinai Peninsula From Ancient Times to Today." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Tristam, Pierre. (2020, August 26). The Sinai Peninsula From Ancient Times to Today. Retrieved from Tristam, Pierre. "The Sinai Peninsula From Ancient Times to Today." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).