In the early centuries of monasticism in this region, monks would live separately in caves and mountain crevasse, isolated from each other. However, with the onslaught of the nomads, the monks were compelled to live in tighter communities.

Between the 5th – 6th centuries, for reasons of security, the monasteries of Egypt were gradually fortified by high walls.

This movement from living in isolation to living a communal monastic life usually had two stages: (1) a fortress of refuge was built to which the monks could flee from attackers. These fortresses were built as early as the 5th century; (2) by the 9th century the central Monastery core was fortified with a surrounding high wall. It is assumed that the high walls surrounding the central Monastery core at St Antony’s was constructed as early as the 6th century because of its remoteness and susceptibility to raiders.

The high walls surrounding the Monastery reach a height of about 20 metres and are constructed of local sandstone. Parts of the original wall dating back sometime between the 6th – 9th century, are still visible. Over time, due to the many devastations and sackings which befell it by nomads, the walls have been repaired, rebuilt, enlarged and fortified.

The Monastery of St Antony is one of the largest monasteries in Egypt. The walls surrounding the Monastery’s core were expanded in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The walls surrounding the monastic core are about 2 km in length. From the walls one looks down into the Monastery, which resembles a typical Egyptian village consisting of mud brick houses, narrow streets, numerous churches, gardens, palm trees and water channels.

Today a new wall encompasses the entire monastic complex; old and new.