Ancient winemaking unearthed near Sinai’s St. Catherine’s Monastery


Egypt’s Minister of Culture announced that an Egyptian archaeological team from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) found well-preserved remnant of a limestone winemaking factory that dates back to the Byzantine era (sixth century AD). It was unearthed during routine work in the area of Sayl al-Tuhfah, west of Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the SCA, said that the factory consists of two parts; the first being a square basin with a pump at one end. The bottom of the basin is covered with plaster. Some sections still bear traces of the wine’s red stains. The northern wall of this basin is decorated with a cross-shaped pattern inside a circle under which is located a clay pump. “This type of pump was once used to make the wine flow after grinding the raisins and dates,” said Hawass.

Farag Fada, head of the Islamic and Coptic department, examined the area and said that the second part of the factory is a circle-shaped basin that looks like a well with a hole. On two of its sides, the two limestone slabs were found, which may have once been used by the factory workers to stand on, added Fada.

Tarek El-Naggar, head of south Sinai antiquities, said that the area connecting the clay pump to the second basin has a hole in order to place the pots used in the preservation of the wine. Early studies have shown that the area of Sayl al-Tuhfah was an industrial region for the production of wine, as there were many grapes and palm trees.

Recently, another important discovery was made at the same location: two golden coins of the Byzantine emperor Valens (AD 364-378) were unearthed in the Sayl al-Tuhfah area in Gebel Abbas, located west of the monastery. The coins were found during routine excavations carried out as well by the SCA. Hawass said the coins were the first time things found in Egypt belonging to Emperor Valens.

Coins of Valens were previously found in Lebanon and Syria, never Egypt. Remnants of the walls along with fragments of clay, glass and porcelain were also excavated. Fada, said that one side of both coins bears an image of the emperor wearing an ornate crown decorated with two rows of pearls surrounding a golden cross, in addition to his official attire. The other side shows the emperor wearing his military attire, holding a staff with a cross in his left hand and a ball surmounted by a winged angel in his right hand.

El-Naggar said both coins were pressed in Antioch (now Antakya in southern Turkey). Further excavations uncover more objects that will add to people’s knowledge of Sinai and its history, especially during the Byzantine era.