The Italian monastery is in ruins when Hana takes residence there with her patient. But as she nurses him, she cleans the place up. She plants a garden, she cleans the rooms, and Kip sweeps the place free of mines. They rebuild and restore, which is something the whole world must do after the war. The little monastery is a microcosm of this healing process.
The main setting in Egypt, aside from the hustle and bustle of Cairo markets or the hot bedrooms where lovers lay lazily under fans, is the Cave of Swimmers. The Cave of Swimmers is a place Almásy has been searching for, a place that according to a local is in a mountain range that looks like "a woman's back."
The Cave of Swimmers might be the only place Almásy shows true emotion. When he finds it, he smiles. Smiles! An Almásy smile is rarer than a Kanye West smile. He later cries there when leaving a wounded Katharine inside.
It's a fitting setting for emotion because it's such a strange discovery—much like Almásy discovering he has emotions. The cave receives its name because of its cave paintings that look like people swimming. People swimming, in the desert? What?
Perhaps the desert used to have great reservoirs of water somewhere. But now that water is gone. The world changes… just like it does when the world enters WWII and history shifts forever.