Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

World's oldest monastery restored

Monastery of St Anthony
Visitors take a tour of the newly-restored monastery

Egypt has completed the restoration of reputedly the world's oldest Christian monastery, called Saint Anthony's.

The monastery is believed to be 1,600 years old. The government-sponsored restoration project cost over $14m (£8.9m) and took more than eight years.

The monastery is a popular site for Coptic Christian pilgrims.

The restoration comes soon after Egypt's worst incident of sectarian violence in a decade, when six Copts were shot dead on Christmas Eve.

BBC's Cairo correspondent Yolande Knell says it is hoped the newly-restored monastery in Suez City will be held up as a sign of co-existence between Egypt's Muslim majority and Christian minority.

Solitary life

Speaking at the site, Egypt's chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass stressed that restoration work at the monastery was carried out by Muslims.

"The announcement we are making today shows to the world how we are keen to restore the monuments of our past, whether Coptic, Jewish or Muslim," said Mr Hawass.

Saint Anthony settled in a cave in remote mountains close to the Red Sea at the end of the 3rd Century to live in isolation. When he died, his followers built the monastery and named it after him.

The project has restored an ancient wall, a tower, two main churches and the monks' quarters.

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