Ma’aloula means the passage or the gorge; it is located to on the eastern slopes of the eastern mountains of Lebanon, 58 Km to the western north of Damascus. Most of the inhabitants are Christians; until a few decades ago Aramaic was widely spoken and there are some recorded speeches in the language of Jesus Christ. It is distinguished with it is ruins, ancient churches and historical monasteries. It sits 1720 meters above the sea level. Ma’aloula used to be a protectorate of Homs in the Aramaic ages. During the Roman Empire they used to call it ‘Seliocopolis’ and it became the centre of bishopric for 30 centuries (starting from the 4th century till the end of the 17th century).
The main three features of this historical city are; 1- its location 2- the churches and historical monasteries 3- the Aramaic language of its people.
It is located at the entrance of a very deep valley, so that the whole city wad built on the severely sloping sides of the valley, so they carved it into the rocks of the mountain. The city ends with a very narrow rocky corridor. The location of the city presents the city as very romantic place where the houses were accumulated in a magnificent harmony as if they were painted in one of the most famous paints in the world it is the place that you should never put your camera down.
The churches and the historical monasteries:
Ma’aloula includes a huge number of churches, monasteries, shrines, and oratories; most of them have been built in the first century AB. Ma’aloula has about 12 churches the most important church of them is the church of St. Leontius, the Church of St. Elias and the Church of St. George. These churches exist today in positions of old Byzantine churches. The churches that you can notice their ruins are the churches of St. Sava, St. Thomas and St. Barbara. At the right side of the valley the monastery of St. Taqla it also contains her tomb in a cave above the monastery. It has been told that; St. Taqla (the daughter of some prince of Sulouqya, one of the first followers of st. Paul) had heard some sermon from St. Paul when she was young, so she decided to isolate herself in the Al-Qalamon mountain and worship God alone, she is known as a supernatural nun she had many miracles, many Christians believe that visiting her shrine heals many diseases. St. Taqla is considered as the first martyr in through the history of the churches.
Ma’aloula has the monastery of St. Sergius one of the Syrian cavalry who converted to Christianity and killed in the area of Maximanus at the year 297, next to the monastery the monastery of Mar Sarkis is located , a small chapel with some architectural elements that belongs to the Byzantine era. The church contains some icons dating back to the thirteenth century AD. A presence of remnants of ancient tombs that been carved in the rock behind the church.
The recent Aramic language that the people of Ma’aloula are using has experienced many developments since the first century BC. It is known that Aramaic was passed through several stages starting from the ancient Aramaic, which lasted from the atheist century BC until the mid-first millennium AD, and the ‘Imperial Aramaic’, which was contemporary to the time of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (530 -330 BC), then the Aramaic language has transformed into its new phase, new evolution at the era of the Maccabees (in 195 or 164 BC. M).
The rocks near Ma’aloula have many cracks which sometimes pierce them from side to side and allow the passage of men and animals; it is likely that the inhabitants of the town used them to escape in case of danger. The longest of these passages is associated with the life of St.Taqla. The long -and sometimes- very narrow passage became a holy site and many tombs were carved into the nearby rocks; today the passage is the main attraction of Ma’aloula and buses unload tourists at one end and pick them up at the other.
There are two important monasteries in Ma’aloula: Mar Sarkis and Mar Taqla: Enter Mar Sarkis Monastery and you will find yourself in the midst of history.
A small temple to the sun cut into the rock has been discovered a few hundred yards from the monastery; the temple was about to be incorporated into the garden of a luxury hotel.
Then visit renowned Mar Taqla Monastery, along with scores of pilgrims, both Muslim and Christian, who go there to gain blessings and to make offerings; the place that holds remains of St. Taqla; and pupil of St. Paul.
Should you want to see more, there are the remains of numerous monasteries, convents, churches, shrines and sanctuaries some of which lie in ruins, while others continue to stand, defying age.
There is one luxury hotel in Ma’aloula which is Safir Ma’aloula, it is little bet expensive with narrow rooms but you can feel comfort and relax with the nature and good hospitality, be sure to check whether breakfast is included within the room price before partaking in the overpriced breakfast.
This is Ma’aloula, the unique village, still genuine in this fake world, a magnificent plaque that contains a strange mixture of past and present, reality and legend, sanctity and beauty.