The eastren slopes of Al-Qalamoun mountains embraces a jewel, a small ancient
town called Maalula, surrounding it from all sides.
This famous village is some 56 km from Damascus, and is situated at an altitude of more than 1500 metres.Its little houses cling to the face of an enormous rock, they look suspended in mid-air. There are two monasteries here; Saint Sergius and Saint Taqla's.The inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. Two neighbouring villages, Jaba'din and Naj'a also speak the same language. The word Ma'lula means 'entrance' in Aramaic.
On entering Maalula, a visitor would feel engulfed in an enchanted world of magic and legends that soon overwhelms the world of reality. Everything in Maalula belongs to the past; yet it lives in the heart of the present.
Relics, boulders and caverns carved in the rocks relate the history of thousands of years from the Aramaean era, when Maalula was part of the kingdom of Homs. During the Roman era she was named Seliocopolis. Maalula played an important religious role during the Byzantine era, as it became at the fourth century A.D. the center of an episcopate that lasted untill the 17th century.
Ma'lula has another feature that will interest the visitor. Both men and women in Maaloula understand Arabic, the national language taught in all the schools, but continue to speak among themselves in the old Syrian dialect known to philologists as "Western Aramaic", an extremely ancient language current in the Middle east during the first millenium before Christ. Two books of the Bible, Daniel and Esdras, were written in Western Aramaic. It was also the language of Christ. The Lords Prayer, the prayer of Christians all over the world, was first spoken in Aramaic; the monks of Mar Sarkis have made a recording of it in this language for visitors.
This linguistic tradition is also preserved in the two neighboring villages of Jaba'adin and Bakhaa.An excursion to Maaloula can be easily combined with a visit to another Christian site, the convent at Seidnaya, 30 kilometers to the south-west, towards Damascus, by a good, if narrow, road.
One of the most famous landmarks in Maalula is Mar Sarkis Monastery. It was built in the fourth century on the remains of a pagan temple. It was named after St. Sarkis, a Syrian knight who fell in the reign of king Maximanus in 297. Another landmark is Mar Taqla Monastery, which is a blessed place. People from different religions go there to gain blessings and to make offerings. Inside lies the remains of St. taqla.
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