The stunning view of Sednaya, as seen looking down from the top of a set of stairs leading to the rooftop of the Convent of Our Lady.
It’s been a year since mine and Mike’s last trip to the Middle East. Since then time has flown by, but that’s no excuse – I can’t believe I haven’t shared my last set of photos from the trip with you until now! These photos are from a day trip we took to Sednaya and Maaloula in Syria while staying in Damascus; both Sednaya and Maaloula are breathtaking and very rich in lore.
(If you didn’t catch my earlier posts on our Middle Eastern travels, you can explore Middle Eastern spices, take a peek at shopping in Middle Eastern markets, take a virtual tour through Old Damascus, check out what the locals eat, and even learn more about the famous Middle Eastern shawarma.)
Our first stop was Maaloula (also transliterated Maalula, Ma’loula, or Ma’lula), which is about a one-hour car ride northeast of Damascus. One of the most intriguing things about this village is the fact that it’s the only place where the Western Aramaic language (the language of Jesus) is still spoken to this day.
There are two large monasteries in Maaloula: Greek Catholic Mar Sarkis and Greek Orthodox Mar Thecla. Mar Sarkis was built in the 4th century on the remains of a pagan temple in honor of a Roman soldier named Saint Sergius, a Christian martyr.
The second important monastery, Mar Thecla, is named after Saint Takla (Thecla), the daughter of a Seleucid prince and student of Saint Paul. The town is built into the mountainside, and the name Maaloula is derived from the word for “entrance”, which refers to the entrance into the mountain. As legend has it, in the 1st century, Saint Taqla was being chased by her father’s soldiers because of her Christianity; she came to the mountain, prayed for escape, and the mountain split open. Of course, several variations of this legend abound.
(Information on Maaloula was compiled from the following sources: stories told to us by our Syrian tour guide, Ma’loula on Wikipedia, Maalula Monastaries on Sacred Destinations, and Maaloula, Syria on AtlasTours.net.)
The village of Maaloula…
Head this way back behind the convent to go into the mountain (above).
Going inside the mountain…
The entrance into the mountain and the statue commemorating Saint Takla (above).
Our second stop was Sednaya (also transliterated Saidnaya or Saydnaya), a city located in a mountainous region about 17 miles (27 kilometers) north of Damascus. This city is home to many churches, the most renowned of which is the Convent of Our Lady that overlooks the town and was built by Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 547 A.D. as a result of divine inspiration. It is said that while Justinian was crossing Syria with his troops, they came to this desert and camped, suffering from thirst. Justinian spotted a beautiful gazelle in the distance and chased it until the animal stopped on a rocky knoll near a spring of water. Suddenly, the gazelle transformed into an icon of the Virgin Mary (also known as Theotokos) and a brilliant light shone; a hand reached out and a voice commanded Justinian to build a church here. The emperor returned to his camp and ordered the church to be built; however, after some time, his architects were unable to progress and the gazelle again appeared to Justinian, this time in a dream, with a magnificent design for the convent. It is said that the convent’s basic structure still follows that plan to this day.
Scholars believe Sednaya to be the second most important Christian city after Jerusalem, and it is a destination for pilgrims from around the world seeking renewal of faith and healing. Numerous stories of miraculous healings in the shrine have been reported, many of which have been documented.
I really enjoyed walking around the convent; it was incredibly tranquil, with its cool stone walls and shaded areas providing relief from the sun and heat. Its corridors were very labyrinth-like and there were several beautiful courtyards with trees and fountains where you could sit and reflect. My favorite place was at the top of a set of stairs leading up to the rooftop, where you could look out at a breathtaking view of Sednaya and enjoy a truly refreshing breeze (see the photo at the top of this post).
(Information regarding Sednaya came from the following sources: stories told to us by our Syrian tour guide, Saidnaya on Wikipedia, and Saidnaya.com.)
The exterior of the Convent of Our Lady…
The view of Sednaya as seen from the convent…
My heart aches because of the turmoil that Syria continues to be wracked with; please keep her people in your thoughts and prayers.
Hi again Faith! Again, u made my heart smile! Maaloula is my village, It´s always been my favorite place on earth, I used to feel the most amazing PEACE there, and still can´t believe what happened to my beautiful country! SIGH, I played and ran in all the corners of the village, GOD I miss it a lot! The smell of thoose mountains with the first rain is just undescribable. The smells, the colors, the voices, the EVERYTHING there is just different! THANK you so much for letting everybody see how amazing my village is, and my whole country! I hope god answer our prayers and we can live in peace again, and once if we do, you are welcome to visit again, would love to show all the corners in that amazing place!!! My final sentence will be in aramaic: ya alloh tib 3imayna7! :)
Nutmeg Nanny says
Love these pictures! I cannot imagine how many you took! Inside the mountains looks amazing :)
nancy at good food matters says
Hi Faith, I always enjoy your travel photos and story, ao I was happy to see this post, especially in light of all the strife and sorrow in Syria today. all our best thoughts and prayers go out to the people.
Urban Wife says
I absolutely loved seeing all your pictures and reading about your experiences in Syria. It reminded me of our trip to Israel a few years ago and made me long for another trip to the Middle East for some more exploring. Thanks for sharing!
Sanjeeta kk says
Love the mountains in your pictures..wish I could go there some day..
I can’t believe it’s been a year already! Your pictures are stunning – thanks for sharing!
Magic of Spice says
What a beautiful place and such magical photos! Lovely post Faith, hugs…
5 Star Foodie says
Gorgeous photos! Thanks so much for sharing with us!
Jen @ The Scrumptious Pumpkin says
Your photos are so gorgeous! What an incredible trip!
Breathtaking photos and views. I loved reading about the history of these places. I would love to visit this area simply because of the history! Not to mention the beauty. I’ve never seen crosses that have that 3-D effect-that’s kinda cool.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says
It’s heart wrenching what is happening in Syria at the moment. Yet your photos are so beautiful Faith -thank you for taking us with you :D
Wow, incredible pictures!
Carolyn Jung says
Wow! What a spectacular setting. And what a beautiful place to explore.
Heba @ MidEATS says
Absolutely stunning. I’m sharing with MidEATS readers if you don’t mind :) I would LOVE to visit Syria and all the monasteries and historical buildings and ruins there … maybe one day. Thanks for taking some awesome pics!
Such gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing! Has it really be a year already? Boy how time flies!
Alyssa @ Everyday Maven says
Faith these beautiful photos and story are a welcome positive association during a difficult time for Syria. I am so glad you shared!
Such an amazing part of the world to visit, you’ve captured some of Syria’s beauty in you post. Great job Faith, loved reading about the history and can’t get over those gold doors, wow!
[email protected] says
I can’t believe it took you so long to share these amazing photos too Faith :) If I took such amazing photos I wouldn’t be able to wait and want to share it with everyone as soon as i can but too bad I’ve got too much work to do on my photography hehe
I don’t really know much about the Middle East but a friend of mine actually grew up in Syria ~ thank you very much for sharing your photos and the narrative I’ve definitely learnt something new!
Daisy, You are so sweet! Believe me, I would have shared them sooner, but things have been pretty busy around here!
P.S. I think your photos are gorgeous! ;)
It never ceases to amaze me how many common things we share all the inhabitants of the Mediterranean Sea. These photos are beautiful Faith and made me to really want to visit these places. We are very close to Syria so inevitably anything that happens there really touches us. I feel very sorry for all the people who suffer there, but mostly I feel very sorry about the leaders of the strong countries who do not do anything to put some pressure to the exsisting regime so as to stop all this. I believe that all people sould have the freedom to decide about their future and fate. No one can deprive them from these fundamental values.
It really is amazing how quickly time flies! Those mountains are amazing! So majestic and looming.
Wow—amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing the beautiful sites and a bit of the history…
This place is full of mysetry. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.
Extraordinary photos and wonderful narrative, Faith. Thanks for posting this. (Aren’t you glad you were able to take the opportunity to visit when you did?!)