For our first full day in Syria and driving an hour from Damascus, we arrived at Maaloula at 10am.
Located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus, Maaloula is a beautiful and serene village built into the mountains at an altitude of more than 1.5km above sea level.
The language of Christ, Western Aramaic, is still spoken here. Maaloula is therefore is one of three remaining villages where Aramaic is still used with the other two being the nearby and smaller villages of Jubb’adin and Bakhah.
Fadi, the owner and head of Golden Team, stopped by soon afterwards to say hi.
We then climbed up to visit the Convent of Saint Thecla, which the 2nd century Acts of Paul and Thecla accounts a noble virgin and pupil of Paul the Apostle named Saint Thecla. Most of it has been renovated after Daesh.
According to legends of this church, during the Roman era Saint Thecla was persecuted by her father because of her Christian faith. She then fled here.
Stopping to pray at where Maaloula is today, the mountain split open and let her escape through where she then stayed for the rest of her life. The town Maaloula therefore gets its name from this gap in the mountain which you can hike through for about 10 minutes.
It reminded us of the walk you have to take to reach Petra in Jordan.
We then circled around from the other side of the gap up to Safir Hotel, which sadly symbolizes how Maaloula was a highly contested region between the Al-Nusra Front and the Syrian Army back in September 2013.
If it’s not obvious enough:
As of time of posting, they still have kept the shell of the car bomb that detonated in the parking lot (about a year after the hotel closed its doors to guests).
We had about half an hour here exploring.
They even left the log book here next to unexploded ordinance at what was formerly the hotel reception desk. The last guest to have signed in here paid by cash and stayed for one night on August 8th, 2010.
Hiking onwards from Hotel Safir, we reached the Saint Sarkis Monastic Complex, one of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. Built on the site of a pagan temple, this renovated structure dates as far back as the Byzantine period in the 5th-6th century AD.
Saint Sarkis is the Syrian name for Saint Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs. This monastery still recalls and honors that solemn history.
The monastery also is home two of the oldest icons in the world, with one depicting the Last Supper.
Then with a 5 minute bathroom break at the café shop by the complex (including a free shot of wine at the gift shop, local arak liquor at the café shop outside, and shisha with the bus drivers), we drove onwards to Kraks des Chavealiers.
- At time of posting in Maaloula, it was 23 °C - Humidity: 21% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear, sunny