The Religious Tourist Locations and Destinations In Rural Damascus (1)

The tourism sector in the governorate of Rural Damascus forms a basic source of income to a large group of the inhabitants of the governorate, especially that it enjoys a large area (about 18500 sq.km.) and a natural diversity, rare to be found in other areas in the world. Rural Damascus is adjacent to four countries: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, and to five Syrian governorates namely: Homs, Qunaitra, Dara'a, Sweida'a and Urban Damascus (the capital). It also enjoys a unique geographical nature in that it has mountains, valleys, the desert, the plains as well as the water springs, rivers, and forests.......etc.

Rural Damascus has ,also, a very ancient history that goes beyond thousands of years.

This is evident by the large number of caves , forts, citadels, khans, monasteries and mosques that spread all over the governorate. This historical and geographical position gave Rural Damascus a distinctive position among other governorates so that it is able to receive hundreds of thousands of Arab and foreign tourists in addition to the Syrian visitors.

Damascus was and is still an important religious city. From its churches Christianity spread all over the world starting by the missionaries of St. Paul the apostle. The Umayyad Mosque had been the headquarters of the first Islamic empire that extended to the borders of India and China in the east and to Europe in the west. Hence it has hundreds of churches, monasteries, mosques, shrines and mausoleums.

The location of Damascus as a linking point between three continents, and the openness of the Damascenes to all the peoples of the world qualified it to be the homeland of many religions, sects and cultures, which made of it a good example to be followed in religious, cultural and social existence as well as a rare center, all over the world, of cultural, religious and political diversity. Any visitor to Syria, whether he is a Moslem, a Christian or secular, will feel enthusiasm to see the many places of worship that had been erected on its soil over the centuries.

Damascus and its countryside was privileged to have hundreds of captivating religious and historical sites whose visit is a must either for bless seeking or for cultural satisfaction and gaining knowledge of human history.

Below we will survey some of the most important Christian and Islamic sites which still stand as a brilliant symbol of coexistence and fraternity among the Syrians of different faiths and sects. Following, we introduce some of the religious tourist locations

In Rural Damascus:

1-Christian sites:

In Saidnaya-The monastery of the Lady of Saidnaya: a huge, well known historical monument above a plateau that looks at Saidnaya, 30 km north of Damascus. This monastery was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 547.The monastery includes a holy compartment that has an Icon said to be drawn by St. Luke .

 -The Cherubim monastery:

A historical monastery built in the fifth century AD, renovated in the twentieth century, built on top of the highest peak of the Qalamoun Mountains (2000 m above sea level)

-The monastery looks at Saidnaya, (and is 7 km from it), the Ghouta of Damascus, Sweida'a, al Thanaya and Dumeir. Baalbek and the Beqa'a valley of Lebanon can be seen from the monastery. When lit in the night it can be seen from distant places from the four directions.

-Monastery of St. Thomas: An elegant, modern monastery near the mountain of Saidnaya. It consists of two adjacent monasteries bearing the same name, one of them belongs to the second and third century, the other is relatively modern built in 1994.

-Monastery of St. Georgiou's (St. George). An old monastery built in Lahaf, west of Saidnaya. Originally it is a cave dug in the rocks. The monastery was restored several times in history. The structure and courtyard were enlarged and many rooms were added to the original building.

In Maarrat Saidnaya:

-Monastery of Mar Afram, the Syriac: A large patriarchal complex built on a high place in the area of palaces in Ma'arrat Saidnaya. It was opened in 1996.

-Shrine of Mar Elias, the live: 2.2 km south of Ma'arrat  Saidnaya and 32 km north of Damascus, built on the second Qalamoun chain of mountains. It is 1200 m above sea level, so we can see Damascus, the Ghouta from the monastery. This monastery has a special place in the Christian history of Syria.

In Ma'aloula:

-Monastery of Mar Taqla: An old patriarchal monastery bearing the name of the first female martyr in Christianity and the apostle of St. Paul. It was built over several periods of time. Inside it, there is the shrine of Mar (St.) Taqla.

- Church of St. Georgious (St. George): One of the modern churches in Ma'aloula. It was built in 1994 near the shrine of St.Georgious.

In Yabroud

-The Cathedral of St. Constantine and St. Helen: One of the greatest and most pompous cathedrals in the Qalamoun area. It is 90 km north of Damascus. It started in the first millennium BC as an Aramaic pagan temple devoted to Baal Shamin, God of the Sun. It continued so until the year 326 when St Helen, on her way from Jerusalem back to Rome, passed in Yabroud where she found wooden pieces of the Sacred Cross. The Christians of Yabroud asked that the temple be transformed into a church and so it was.

East of al Nabk:

-Deir (Monastery) Mar Mousa, the Abyssinian: One of the most famous monasteries in the world. It was built in the middle of the sixth century AD over a high and difficult to reach steep hill, 15 km east of al Nabk, itself 80 km from Damascus. Inside the monastery there is a wealth of Icons, frescoes and inscriptions being restored and preserved by an Italian monk.

In Qara:

-Monastery of Mar Sarkis / Monastery of Mar Sergious and Bacchus: It is an old monastery said to be built in the 4th. Century AD over the ruins of a pagan temple.

It is 60 km from Damascus,1792 m above sea level. Many Byzantine ruins scatter around it. Just behind the monastery, there is a series of caves and tombs dug in the rocks with Greek inscriptions and a stone carved imperial eagle that belongs to the first century.

-Deir (Monastery of) Mar Jacob the Mutilated: An old monastery built in the sixth century AD. In a unique design .The monastery was restored in 1994. It is 2 km north west of Qara, 92 km from Damascus.

Mazra'at Kawkab:

Monastery of the Revelation: An elegant monastery 18 km south of Damascus, built in the fifth century on the place where people believe that Jesus Christ was revealed to Saul, before becoming St. Paul.

 

Haifaa Mafalani