Wadi Natrun is known for its Coptic monasteries where thousands of Christians escaped from Roman persecution in the 4th century. Of the 60 or so original compounds in the valley, only four remain. These monastery buildings are impressive, as they were fortified after Arab raids in 817, although unlike at the Monastery of St Anthony in the Eastern Desert, only scraps of fresco art remain.
Your experience here largely depends on when you visit – most days are quiet, but visitors mob the churches on Christian and public holidays, yielding a glimpse into contemporary Coptic traditions. The monastic tradition is thriving, and the Coptic pope is still chosen from the Wadi Natrun monks.
The area was also important to the ancient Egyptians because the valley’s salt lakes dry up in the summer and leave natron, a substance crucial to the mummification process.