Located 50 km from Damascus in the direction of Lebanon is the magnificent village of Maalula (also spelled Maaloula), Syria. Maalula is the only place in the world that still speaks Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
What to See at Maalula Monasteries
Maalula is a predominantly Christian village with a population of about 2,000. It is the home of two ancient Christian monasteries: Mar Sarkis and Mar Taqla. Both Christians and Muslim pilgrims come to Maalula seeking blessings.
Maalula means "the entrance" in Aramaic, referring to its dramatic location at the entrance to a rocky gorge. Maalula perches on the slopes of the Kalamun Mountains at an altitude of 1,500 meters, overlooking a vast green carpet of fig trees, flowering damsons, grapevines and poplar trees. In addition to its important monasteries, the village is an attraction in itself: visitors invariably remark on the unique feeling of living history and the suspension of time in Maalula.
The Greek Catholic monastery of St. Sergius (Mar Sarkis or Mar Sergus) has a chapel with a beautiful display of icons. Built in the 4th century on the remains of a pagan temple, the Mar Sarkis monastery is one of the oldest in Christendom. That it likely predates the Council of Nicea (325 AD) is evidenced by the fact that it has a round altar, which was prohibited at the Council.
Mar Sarkis is designed after the pattern of the martyrion (a shrine dedicated to a martyr) and is dedicated to St. Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs (Sergius has a grander basilica in Rasafa, Syria).
The convent of Mar Sarkis retains its historic feel and owns an interesting collection of religious icons from the 16th to the 18th century including one of the Virgin Mary and another of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. The nuns, some of whom speak English, show visitors around.
Further down in the village is the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Thecla (Mar Takla). Thecla was the daughter of a Seleucid prince and a young disciple of St. Paul whose dramatic life story is told in the apocryphal, and possibly legendary, Acts of Paul and Thecla. She is believed to be buried in the mountain just above the monastery. On the road that leaves the the village, look for a steep path on the right that leads to a terrace where a small waterfall welcomes the pilgrims.
The building was constructed on several levels. On the top floor is a modern church with a dome and a cave into which filters water with miraculous properties. This religious monument receives an unending stream of Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Other religious relics can be found in the convent but what strikes one most is the peaceful atmosphere of the place.
Festivals and Events
The Maalulas have a collection of unique religious and festive songs and a great sense of community and festivity. There are three major festivals: the St. Cross Festival on September 14; the Festival of Mar Takla on September 22; and the festival of Mar Sarkis on October 7. Hundreds of visitors attend these celebrations and they enjoy some of the most imaginative festivals in the whole of Syria.
Maalula is a good day trip from Damascus, as it is just a one-hour minibus ride away. The minibus station for Maalula is near Abassidas Square in Damascus next to the football stadium, down the Boulevard of Nassirah. The minibuses don't have a fixed timetable and they leave when they are full. The last minibus in both directions leaves at 5pm.
Quick Facts on Maalula Monasteries
|Dedication:||St. Sergius, St. Thecla|
|Dates:||before 325 (Mar Sarkis)|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||33.846955° N, 36.546873° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Maalula Monasteries|
- "Yabroud, Maaloula, & Seidnaya" - Syria Gate (2006)
- "Maalulua" - Lingolex.com (2006)
- "The Churches of Maaloula" - travel journal by HobWahid at iExplore (dated 11/4/05)
Map of Maalula Monasteries, Syria
Below is a location map and aerial view of Maalula Monasteries. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.