The fortress-like 7th century Monastery of St. Simeon was first dedicated to the 4th century local saint Abba Hedra, who renounced the world on his wedding day. It was rebuilt in the 10th century and dedicated to St. Simeon. From here the monks traveled into Nubia, in the hope of converting the Nubians to Christianity, until Salah ad-Din destroyed the monastery in 1173.
Surrounded by desert sands, the monastery was built on two levels, the lower level of stone and the upper level of mud brick, surrounded by 10 meter (3 foot) high walls. The basilica has traces of frescoes, and nearby is the chamber where St. Simeon prayed with his beard tied to the ceiling in case he fell asleep. The cells with their mastaba (bench) beds, once provided accommodation for about 300 resident monks and some 100 pilgrims. The last room on the right still has graffiti from Muslim pilgrims who stayed here en route to Mecca.