(MENAFN – Brazil-Arab News Agency (ANBA)) Alexandre Rocha Maaloula, Syria – Millions of foreign travelers used to flock to Syria before the war that broke out in
2011, and many would seek out the religious sites. One such site is the town of Maaloula, nested among the Qalamun Mountains, some 60 km northeast of Damascus. The place was visited on August 29 by journalists from news outlets – including ANBA – who visited the country at the invitation of Syria’s Ministry of Tourism. The Our Father in English, Aramaic and Arabic: a souvenir from Maaloulah Maaloula, the subject of the second story in aseries on Syria , is a one-of-a-kind place where Aramaic – the language employed in the Middle East during the time of Jesus Christ – is still spoken. Maaloula is Aramaic for ‘entrance,’ in a probable reference to the fact that the village sits before a canyon that splits up the mountains from top to bottom. The town is home to the convent and church of Saint Sergius (Deir Mar-Sarkis), built in the 4th century in honor of saints Sergius and Bacchus, two Syrian-born Christian martyrs. Tradition has it that both were soldiers for the Roman Empire, and were executed after refusing to renounce Christian faith in 297 AD, during the reign of emperor Maximian (286-305 AD). A view of Maaloulah The entrance to the complex is small, requiring one to crouch down to step inside. This is to prevent soldiers on horseback from entering. This, however, failed to prevent access by the Jihadi group Al-Nusra Front, which invaded Maaloula in 2013. The site was ransacked and seriously damaged in the war. After entering the convent, one walks across a patio to get to the church, which is Greek Catholic and comprises three altars with unique features. The structures’ stone lids are reminiscent of the altars in pagan temples, although in this case the holes designed to let the blood from sacrificed animals through aren’t there. The day ANBA came to visit, a group was being given information by local resident Rita Wahba. According to her, 26 religious icons were stolen or damaged by the invaders, and the church was closed for years. The building was restored, but some of the icons on display are replicas donated by third parties. According to Wahba, 17 Syrian soldiers died during the fighting to take back the city, but civilian casualties were few. ‘It was a miracle from God that the victims were so few,’ she said. The Syrian army got Maaloula back in 2014, backed by Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement. Wahba even recited a little sample from Psalm 135 in Aramaic for the tourists (watch the video at the end of this story). (Story continues after photo gallery) The visit to the church also prompted comments of the ‘It’s a small world’ kind. The group that was visiting when the journalists arrived comprised a Syrian man and two young women, along with two nuns from Ecuador. An Argentinian journalist of Syrian descent immediately recognized the man as his cousin who lives in Aleppo.