Red Sea Hills in Egypt
Closer view of the arid, rocky Red Sea Hills

Itbāy (Arabic: اطبيه) or ʿAtbāy is a region of southeastern Egypt and northeastern Sudan. It is characterized by a chain of mountains, the Red Sea Hills, running north–south and parallel with the Red Sea. The hills separate the narrow coastal plain from the Eastern Desert.[1]


The Red Sea Hills are composed of the exposed Neoproterozoic volcano-sedimentary rock of the Arabian-Nubian Shield. Although the rock itself is 550–900 million years old, the mountains were created by uplift when the Red Sea itself was formed in the Oligocene, only some 23–34 million years ago. The Red Sea Hills are thus part of the same formation as the Sarawat Mountains of Saudi Arabia and the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula.[2] The Red Sea Hills rise almost to 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) today, but in the past were much higher. The Oligocene uplift caused the rejuvenation of their streams and the increased erosion removed most of the limestone and sandstone to expose the basement layer.[3]

The Itbāy is arid, receiving less than 200 millimetres (7.9 in) of rainfall each year with high variability.[4] The Barka River, the most significant of the few seasonal streams that flow into the Red Sea, rises in the Red Sea Hills of Sudan and empties into the sea at the Tokar Delta. In prehistoric times it was probably a permanent river.[5]


In prehistoric times, the Red Sea Hills were likely the area where the Proto-Cushitic language was spoken.[6]

The Red Sea Hills are a source of porphyry, which was being mined as early as the fourth millennium BC.[7]

The Red Sea Hills are inhabited by the Beja people who speak a Cushitic language and practice pastoralism. They mainly live near the dry riverbeds, wādīs, that flow seasonally into the sea and the Nile, where there is limited vegetation.[4] In antiquity, the Beja were known as the Blemmyes and their presence in the hills is detected archaeologically by the presence of Eastern Desert Ware from the fourth century AD. The material culture of the hills places it firmly within ancient Egypt's sphere of influence. Extensive mining settlements have been found in the Wadi Allaqi and the Wadi Gabgaba. The early Blemmyes built platform tumuli (flat-topped burial mounds), and the appearance of cairns to mark burials in the late Middle Ages may be linked to Islamization.[7]


  1. ^ "Itbāy", in Encyclopædia Britannica (online 7 May 2012), accessed 31 December 2018.
  2. ^ M. Sultan, S. Sefry and M. AbuAbdallah, "Impacts of Climate Change on the Red Sea Region and its Watersheds, Saudi Arabia", The Red Sea: The Formation, Morphology, Oceanography and Environment of a Young Oceanic Basin (Springer, 2015), p. 364.
  3. ^ Bonnie M. Sampsell, The Geology of Egypt: A Traveler's Handbook (American University in Cairo Press, 2003), pp. 27–28.
  4. ^ a b Leif Manger, Managing pastoral adaptations in the Red Sea Hills of the Sudan: Challenges and Dilemmas (IIED, 1994), p. 2.
  5. ^ W. Bosworth, "Geological Evolution of the Red Sea: Historical Background, Review, and Synthesis", The Red Sea: The Formation, Morphology, Oceanography and Environment of a Young Oceanic Basin (Springer, 2015), p. 50.
  6. ^ Stevens, Chris J.; Nixon, Sam; Murray, Mary Anne; Fuller, Dorian Q. (July 2016). Archaeology of African Plant Use. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-43400-1.
  7. ^ a b David N. Edwards, The Nubian Past: An Archaeology of the Sudan (Routledge, 2004), pp. 64, 209, 251–52.

Coordinates: 25°39′40″N 33°57′12″E / 25.6611°N 33.9533°E / 25.6611; 33.9533