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Maaret en Nouman

Proudly standing stop of a hill made higher by a steep glacis, the castle is rather reminiscent of the Citadel of Aleppo. Its fortified entrance works are similarly conceived as well. A typically Arab fortress, it occupies the site of a former Greek-Roman castle.

Down below, the town forms a splash of gray on the tawny expense of the high Syrian uplands. The houses are built of dark-colored limestone, quarried from the mountainside nearby.

Here and there in the streets you can see ancient stones with Corinthian carving. Ancient columns have been re-used in the courtyard of the mosque itself, and there is a carved cross on one of the windows of the minaret. This minaret, square-based, soberly-decorated and very slender, is extremely elegant. It rises above a large arcaded square from which there are entrances into covered souks. On the edge of the town two 18th-century khans, the khan Assad Pasha and the Khan Murad Pasha, can be seen. The latter has been seen converted into a regional museum and houses many of the region’s mosaic.

A mausoleum, recently built in traditional style, contains the much venerated tomb of the distinguished Al Ma’arri, "poet of philosophers and philosopher of poets", who became famous for his "letters of pardon", which inspired Dante, the great Italian poet, Born in Maarat, he died in 1058.

There is a library which is greatly frequented by the local intellectuals.

It is possible to visit several "ghost towns" from Maarat.

To the west Al Bara cab be reached, by tracks which are difficult in places, passing through the abandoned towns of Kafr Ruma, Hass, Al Bara, Delloza, Serjilla. Al Bara can be also reached easily surfaced roads, via Ariha taking the road to Jisr al Shughour and turning left to Urum al Jawz and left again to Meriane and Al Bara (about 45 km).

There is another group of ghost towns on the range that rises between the roads to Ariha and Aleppo north of Maarat.

These towns, desert today and far from all the busy centers, are in a remarkable state of preservation.

They have stood here for a thousand years, these houses, monasteries and churches; it seems that they only need a bit of tidying up, the replacement of the odd wall or roof here and there, to make them perfectly habitable once again.

Taking them in order, there is Dana not to be confused with another Dana, near Qalaat Seman, notable for its tomb-shrine with a pyramidal roof and colonnaded peristyle, severely decorated and perfectly preserved; Jairadeh, where the streets are littered with blocks of Masony, but still having its rampart walls and a six-storied watch-tower; Rouehya, an extensive town laid out round a central colonnaded square; there is a monumental tomb there too, rather like a Greek temple, whose walls, columns and roof all intact - rise above the surrounding chaos. The facade of a neighboring church is also still standing - a three aisle basilica, dating from the 3rd century; it is said to be the oldest in Syria.

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