The ancient and predominantly Christian village of Maalula is located in the eastern slopes of Al-Qalamoun mountains (Anti-Lebanon mountains), southern Syria about 50 km north of Damascus. It is situated at an altitude of more than 1500 metres.
The houses are built on the slopes of a huge cirque of rocks that encloses the village; the houses are constructed of stones with flat beam roofs. Most of the houses have blue plaster on the outside, a Christian custom.
There are two monasteries here; Saint Sergius (Sarkis) and Saint Thecla (Tekla). Most of the inhabitants are Greek-Catholic and have preserved in their spoken language a dialect of Syriac (Aramaic), the language spoken by Christ. Two neighbouring villages, Jabaadin and Najaa also speak the same language. The word Maalula means 'entrance' in Aramaic.
The Catholic monastery of Saint Sarkis (St. Sergius) has inside it a small Byzantine church whose altar has raised sides, like the pagan altars of Roman templeshas; This Byzantine church and Byzantine-period tombs are cut into the rock behind.
The Orthodox monastery, Mar Takla (St. Thecla), has a modern church.
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 it was named Seliocopolis. Maalula played an important religious role during the Byzantine era, as it became at the fourth century A.D. the centre of an episcopate that lasted until the 17th century.
The Aramic language witch is still spoken in Maalula is an extremely ancient language current in the Middle east during the first millennium before Christ. Two books of the Bible, Daniel and Esdras, were written in Western Aramaic. It was also the language of Christ. The Lord's 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.
Attractions and historical building
Even though the majority of its buildings are modern, Maalulla is a beautiful place with curious wind-eroded rocks at the top end of the village and a gentle orchard-filled valley at the other. There's a remarkably sleepy air to the place which is a pleasant break from the frenetic pace and crowds of Damascus.
- One of the most famous landmarks is the monastery of St Tekla (Thecla). according to legend she was an early convert to Christianity and a follower of St Paul who broke off her engagement to devote herself to god. Her vengeful fiancé tried to kill her by various means, all of which were thwarted by divine intervention. Eventually she is supposed to have hidden away in a grotto in the cliff around which the modern convent was built.
The monastery of St Tekla is a blessed place. People from different religions go there to gain blessings and to make offerings. Inside lies the remains of St. Tekla.
- Another landmark in Maalula is Mar Sarkis (Sergius) 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.
An excursion to Maaloula can be easily combined with a visit to another Christian site, the convent at Seidnaya, 30 kilometres to the south-west, towards Damascus