This brooding mass dates from approximately the 7th century AD, and it is one of the largest and best-preserved Coptic monasteries in Egypt. Little is known of its origins, and although Saint Simeon is said to have lived here in the 5th century, findings suggest that the monastery may have been originally dedicated to someone else. The place feels like an abandoned town, full of vaulted passages and crumbling arches. Some poorly preserved frescoes remain in the basilica on the lower level. A stroll through this austere and mysterious romantic ruin, with its awesome desert vistas, is memorable.
The monastery is 4 km (2½ mi) through the desert from the Tombs of the Nobles; by camel the trip takes 40 minutes and costs £E35. From the Aga Khan Mausoleum, you can hike uphill to a footpath that leads from behind the mausoleum to the monastery, about a 30-minute walk. This is a strenuous and hot walk even in winter, so take plenty of water and wear sturdy shoes.