History Of Wadi Al Natron
Introduction to The History Of Wadi Al Natron
The alkali lakes of the Natron Valley provided the Ancient Egyptians with the sodium bicarbonate used in mummification and in Egyptian faience, and later by the Romans as a flux for glass making. The desolate region became one of Christianity’s most sacred areas. The desert fathers and cenobitic monastic communities used the desert’s solitude and privations to develop self-discipline (asceticism). Hermit monks believed that desert life would teach them to eschew the things of this world and follow God’s call.
Between the 4th and 7th century A.D., hundreds of thousands of people from the world over joined the hundreds of Christian monasteries in the Nitrian Desert, centered on Nitria, Kellia and Scetis (Wadi El Natron).
Saint Macarius of Egypt first came to Scetis (Wadi El Natron) around 330 AD where he established a solitary monastic site. His reputation attracted a loose band of anchorites, hermits and monks who settled nearby in individual cells. Many of them came from nearby Nitria and Kellia where they had previous experience in solitary desert living; thus the earliest cenobitic communities were a loose consolidation of like-minded monks.
By the end of the fourth century, four distinct communities had developed: Baramus, Macarius, Bishoi and John Kolobos. At first, these communities were groupings of cells centered on a communal church and facilities, but enclosed walls and watchtowers developed over time and in response to raids from desert nomads. Nitria, Kellia, and Scellis also experienced internal fractures related to doctrinal disputes in Egypt.
The monasteries flourished during the Muslim conquest of Egypt (639-42), but in the eighth and ninth centuries, taxation and administration concerns led to conflicts with the Muslim government. Nitria and Kellia were eventually abandoned in the 7th and 9th centuries respectively, but Scetis continued throughout the Medieval period. Although some of the individual monasteries were eventually abandoned or destroyed, four have remained in use to the present day:
The area is one of the best-known sites containing large numbers of fossils of large pre-historic animals in Egypt, and was known for this in the first century AD and probably much earlier.