El Monasterio de San Antonio, situado a 250 km al este de el Cairo, sobre el Mar Rojo, es el monasterio activo más antiguo en el mundo. Fuen fundado en el 356 d.C., y es una parte importante de la historia copta de Egipto.
Saint Anthony lived in the 3rd. century AD in Egypt, and is considered the founder of the monastic life. He moved out to the desert and with his followers, began to build the monastery as a place to live in a religious community. When I visited this place in 2000, I saw that it was in need of conservation, so I announced to the world that we would commence the technical and architectural restoration of this site. Over the past 200 years, 200 Muslims have come to work on the restoration of this monastery. They built an area f to use for prayer during Ramadan, and the monks used to share breakfast with them during Ramadan.
There are 120 monks and priests currently living in this community, both inside and outside the monastery walls. It is visited by over 1 million people each year, both Egyptians and foreigners, and it is a beautiful drive from Cairo, along the Red Sea. On Thursday, I came to view the restoration, and to hold a press conference, where I talked about our restoration works of this and other sites all over Egypt. I was glad that press from all over the world came to the monastery, because it shows how people are interested in Egypt and how we are working to preserve all aspects of our heritage. We spent 80 million Egyptian pounds on the restoration of this monastery, and I have to say that I was very impressed with the results.
The restoration of the church inside the monastery is beautiful. Inside, we restored all of the icons and paintings, as well as the architecture of the church. The most impressive thing, though, was that underneath this church, we discovered the oldest Coptic cell in the world. It dates to the 4th. century AD, and the areas where the monks would stand and sit are still visible. Our restoration experts constructed a plexiglass floor over this cell, which allows visitors to view this old cell while still preserving the 6th. century structure above.
Another building that was very well restored is the dining hall, which contains a long dining table made of limestone, with space for about 60 people to sit around it and eat. There is also a space for a person to sit and recite religious texts. The restoration work here kept the feel of the past, and I could imagine it was like the dining of the Middle Ages.