The Ancient Keep
The history of the keep began in 6th/7th century. However some archaeologists dated back to the 8th century. It is one of the smallest keeps existing now in the inhabited monasteries.Generally speaking, keeps were built to protect the monks against barbarian fierce raids.The first and biggest keep was built in St. Macarius Monastery in Shiheete Wilderness in the 5th century, during the reign of King Zeno (Zenon) who died in 491 A.D. It is known that Saint Illaria, daughter of King Zeno, who escaped from the Emperor’s palace disguised in male clothing. Long after King Zeno discovered that matter, began to donate money and gifts generously and compassionately to St. Macarius Monastery, along with other monasteries. When he learnt of the barbarian raids on Shiheet Wilderness, King Zeno ordered for keeps to be built in the monasteries starting with St. Macarius. (See Coptic Monasticism, Abu Makar Monastery, p: 394 – 395, 591 – 620, Arabic edition).
As keeps are not originally Egyptian, hence their architectural style or design is that of Asia and Syria.The keep, in structure, is a strong building with one entrance led to by a wooden draw bridge. The plan cross-section of its openings (windows) are conical in shape; a design allowing the viewer from inside to observe what’s outside, while not giving the viewer from outside the same privilege.Of course this means that the keep must be designed and well- equipped to grant the monks maximum protection for as long as a siege lasts. It is also prepared to practice their spiritual rituals as well as basic physical livelihoods that ensure the continuity of their lives.