onsidered by many archaeologists to be the most beautiful place in the Syrian desert, Rasafa was cited in the Assyrian texts and in the Bible. After 305 AD, Rasafa was called "Sergiopolis" after Saint Sergius, a Roman officer stationed on the Euphrates, who died for refusing to deny Christ, under Diocletian.
Four fortified gates give access to the town, one in the middle of each side of the rampart. The north gate, though half buried in the sand, is the most finely decorated. The five arches of which it is made up rest on columns with lavish Corinthian capitals. Friezes of fine sculptures follow the line of the architecture. An impression of richness, almost of luxuriance, is created using very sober means. The method is typically Syrian: it is to be found in almost all the "ghost towns" of Northern Syria and is used even more fineness at Qalb Loza and at Qalaat Seman in particular. The exceptional interest of Rasafah lies elsewhere, therefore. Although the north face, always in the shade, has not revealed it, the smallest stone exposed to the sun will draw the visitors attention: the city shines with a thousand lights!
The chipped cornices, the edges of the acanthuses or of the sculpted rosettes, the carved or broken blocks, all have the glint of rose crystal. Rasafah was built out of a rose-colored marble encrusted with gypsum; the countless fragments of the shattered city catch the light like so many pieces of quartz-crystal.
Strong buttresses support the defensive wall on the inside. Made of big blocks well bonded together, they allow room for a vaulted passage to serve as a curtain. The tow of arches creates an effect of alternating light and shade and the whole is bathed in a rose-colored glow. Of the city itself, there remains only two or three buildings that can be identified and deserve the attention of the ordinary visitor. All round is desolation; the bare and upturned land is pitted with craters as if it had come under heavy artillery fire whereas all that has really happened are acts of vandalism and all these thousands of holes are the work of generations of shameless treasure-seekers
From the north gate, the Via Recta formed the main thoroughfare of the city. It is now no more than a pathway overgrown with grass, but lining it on either side there are still blocks of marble, the broken stumps of pillars and chunks of wall from the past. The street leads to a first building of some size: the martyrium, a church where, at an early date, the bodies of Saint Sergius and his companions Bacchus and Julia were laid to rest. It is a basilican church with an apse. The floor and walls are made of gypsum stone found in Rasafah and the great monolithic columns are of rose-colored marble. The apsidal chapels are well preserved; the capitals and the archway carved like lace. Unfortunately, the whole structure seems to stand only by a miracle; the keystone has already slipped more than half its height. Clearing, restoration and strengthening us urgently needed if this relic from one of the great periods of Syrian art is not to become a scatter of stones forgotten in the sand.
A hundred meters east of the martyrium stands a larger and more majestic replica of the first church, the great basilica dedicated to Saint Sergius. It has the same logical layout, the same shapeliness, the same pretty decoration and, of course, the same great beauty of the building material. Here, fortunately, some restoration work has already been begun.
Built on to the north wall of the basilica, and perhaps taken from a lateral nave of the Christian building, is a big rectangular, colonnaded hall used as a mosque in the 13th or 14th century. Two alcoves made in the church wall became mihrabs. These are both Byzantine and Arab writing which confirm that the two religious, Christianity and Islam, lived side by side at Rasafah right into the Middle Ages.
Close to the great basilica, a breach in the south-east corner of the rampart leads outside the walls to a knoll on which Caliph Hisham built his palace with a square layout and with all the rooms opening on to a vast inner courtyard. Unfortunately, the destruction wreaked by the hatred of the Abbassides for the Omayyads and centuries of erosion of the brick have left little here to fire the imagination.
Returning to the inside of the walls, the visitor will again be delighted at the sight of the crystalline stone, just as remarkable even when reduced to pieces of debris strewn on the ground. Taking a bearing on the tall silhouette of the martyrium, he will then set off towards the south-west district of the city.
Behind the martyrium, several vaulted rooms are to be seen in a building with a central courtyard. This was a pilgrims inn. One of the walls bears an enigmatic inscription.
A little further on at ground level are the entrances to two huge cisterns hollowed out of the rock with transverse rib vaults and walls still covered with water-tight cement. Their capacity gives a good idea of the population of Rasafah, Rasafah which is now nothing more than a tiny fragment of crystal glittering in the dreary desert.
When Islam had overcome Christianity, one of the first Caliphs, the Umayaad Hisham, came to live in Rasafa, after he had had palatial summer residences built there, which in their riches were compared with the palaces of Baghdad. But less than six years after his death in 743, the Abbasides desecrated the sepulcher of their brother enemy and destroyed every one of the buildings and the monuments he had erected. The actual site is huge. The remains of the thick walls, the Baptistery, basilicas, the enormous water cistern and an Umayaad Palace provide a fascinating sight.
It is located south of the Euphrates and north of the Syrian semi-desert, 160 km south-east of Aleppo and 30 km south of the Aleppo-Raqqa road.
Rasafeh palace was the residence of Hisham ibn Abdul Malik, the third Omayyad Caliph, whose age was a golden one, due to his great interest in the arts and in architecture.He had several palaces built in various parts of Syria.He was in favour of simplicity and modesty; this is why he chose Rasafeh as his residence.There, he died and was buried.
The palace was originally a church, built to commemorate a Roman officer (St.Sergius), who died in defence of Christianity in the 4th century.In 616, the church was invaded by the Persians, robbed and destroyed.When Hisham ibn Abdul Malik became a caliph in the 8th century, he built two beautiful palaces on its site.Later, the Abbassids invaded and destroyed what the Caliph Hisham had built.Very little of the ruins of the Mar Sarkis church remain.Parts of the church have been used as a mosque; inscriptions in both Arabic and Greek, engraved on the walls, indicate that the Christians and the Muslims co-existed peacefully in Syria from the 13th century onwards.
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