It is located in the Western Desert near the delta about 90 kilometers northwest of Cairo, Cairo-Alexandria road.
Wadi El-Natroun or Valley of Salt was once important to the ancient Egyptians, as it was providing them with sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, which was used in mummification, and soda (sodium oxide), used for glass manufacturing, because the area was very rich with its salts. Natroun was also important in ancient Egyptian medicine, rituals and crafts. The Romans extracted silica for glass from here. During the British occupation era, a railroad system was built to move the salt in the valley to Cairo.
Wadi Naturoun is also an area known for bird watching. It contains a series of nine small lakes.
It is believed that the holy family visited Wadi El Natroun during their flight to Egypt.
The monasteries at Wadi Natroun and the surrounding region constitute considered the earliest, Christian monasteries in the world.
Christianity reached the area with St. Macarius the Great who retreated there in C.330. During this period, holy men were hermits, living outside social structures. However, the reputation of St. Macarius soon attracted followers, who built cells nearby and thus began a loose confederation of monastic communities.
The area was once flourished by tens of monasteries of which only four survived the time. This was to protect monks against the Berbers and Bedouins, though without avail in some cases.
Until the Arab invasion of Egypt (640-642), Wadi el Natroun was a beehive of activity. Thousands of Copts (a name derived from the Greek, Aigyptios, meaning Egyptian), and Armenians, Ethiopians, Greeks and Latins – professors and philosophers as well as peasants – gathered in these monasteries to live and pray.
Several literary sources provide details about the life of the monks in Scetis during the late fourth and the early fifth centuries.
Hermits lived in cells or caves comprising two or more rooms, one of which functioned as an oratory. Monks earned their living by plying crafts, especially basketry and rope making. On Saturday and Sunday the monks gathered in the church to celebrate Mass and sometimes to take a Sunday meal in common.
By the end of the fourth century AD, the loose agglomeration of Christian settlers had coalesced into four monastic communities:
1. The Monastery of St. Bishoy
2. The Monastery of Baramus
3. The Monastery of Abu Makar
4. The Monastery of El-Suryan
These monasteries were simply collections of individual cells and dwellings centered on specific churches and communal facilities, but they gradually developed into enclosures with walls and watchtowers for protection, because, like Nitria and Kellia, Scetis was at times subject to raids from desert nomads.