Dura Europos

Dura Europos ("Fort Europos") is a ruined Hellenistic-Roman walled city built on cliff 90 meters above the banks of the Euphrates river. It is located near the village of Salhiyé, Syria.

Destroyed by war and abandoned in the 3rd century AD, it lie hidden until its rediscovery in 1920. Excavations have revealed, among other important ruins, the oldest church ever found. Due to its remarkable preservation and has sometimes been dubbed the "Pompeii of the Syrian Desert."

Dura Europos was founded in 303 BC by the Seleucids (Alexander the Great's successors) on the intersection of an east-west trade route and a north-south trade route along the Euphrates. The new city, named for the birthplace of Seleucus I Nicator, controlled the river crossing on the route between Antioch on the Orontes and Seleucia on the Tigris. Dura Europos was part of a network of military colonies intended to secure Seleucid control of the Middle Euphrates.

Dura was rebuilt as a great Hellenistic city in the 2nd century BC, with a rectangular grid of streets arranged around a large central agora, was formally laid out. Its location on a major crossroads made it a very cosmopolitan city: inscriptions in many languages have been found here and the religious buildings of pagans and Christians stand side by side.

Dura Europos later became a frontier fortress of the Parthian Empire and it was captured by the Romans in 165 AD. In the early 200s AD, the famed house-church and synagogue were built at Dura Europos. There was also a Mithraeum, a Temple of Bel and a Temple of Adonis in the multi-cultural city.

Dura Europos was abandoned after a Sassanian siege in 256-257. In a last-ditch attempt to save the city, the synagogue was filled in to make a fortress, thereby ensuring its preservation. The city eventually became covered in shifting sands and disappeared from sight.

Although the existence of Dura-Europos was long known through literary sources, it was not rediscovered until British troops under Captain Murphy made the first discovery during the Arab rebellion in the aftermath of World War I. On March 30, 1920, a soldier digging a trench uncovered beautifully preserved frescoes. The American archeologist James Henry Breasted, then at Baghdad, was alerted. Major excavations were carried out in the 1920s and 1930s by French and American teams.

The first excavations of the site, undertaken by Franz Cumont and published in 1922-23, identified the site as Dura-Europos and uncovered a temple before renewed hostilities in the area closed it to archaeology. Later, renewed campaigns directed by Michael Rostovtzeff funded by Yale University continued until 1937, when funds ran out with only part of the excavations published. World War II then interfered.

Since 1986 excavations have resumed. Not the least of the finds were astonishingly well-preserved arms and armour belonging to the Roman garrison at the time of the final Sassanian siege of 256. Finds included painted wooden shields and complete horse armours, preserved by the very finality of the destruction of the city that journalists have called "the Pompeii of the desert.


The Dead Cities of Syria

The environs west and southwest of Aleppo in northern Syria are home to the "Dead Cities" , abandoned ruins of some 700 Byzantine towns, villages and monastic settlements. These ruins are among the greatest treasuries of Byzantine architecture to be found anywhere in the ancient world.

Deserted and desolate today, the region of the Dead Cities once supported an immense and prosperous population, for it was rich in olive groves and was the hinterland of the great Christian city of Antioch. The towns and villages ("cities" is a misnomer but sounds more dramatic) lack the grid plan of ancient cities; the "Dead Cities" instead seem to be settlements that developed organically in the countryside.

After the Islamic conquest of the Byzantine world, the political and demographical center moved from Antioch to Damascus and this region, which depended on Antioch for its prosperity, went into decline. Its inhabitants moved away, leaving behind ghost towns. In the absence of invasions or natural disasters, these towns and villages remained remarkably well-preserved over the centuries.

Today, very little of Antioch survives but the Dead Cities still litter the landscape with astonishingly well-preserved basilicas, monasteries, villas and baths. Indeed, the Dead Cities of Syria provide "one of the best pictures of the world of Late Antiquity to be found anywhere."



Syria, home of Arab horse

The original Arab horse is the most ancient, highborn and charming kind of horses. It took root in the Arab region and didn’t mix with other descents from out of the region.

What makes the Arab horses distinguished from others are their complete competence, patience, courage, intelligence, loyalty, fertility and small size. Its head expresses the extent of his beauty, originality and energy.

According to researchers, this horse is the most ancient descent of fast horses in the world.  It belongs to the Arabs because of the special care they accorded to it to keep its ancestries, and to maintain the unique relationship between the horse and its owner.

The Arab horse appeared four thousand years ago. Researchers had different views about the first home of the Arab horse, but most ancient and modern sources said that the Arab horse grew in the Arab world and didn’t come from abroad. Some researchers assumed that it grew in Syria after entering it from the northwest in the 11century B.C

Away from historians’ stories, experts of the present time considered the Damascene horse as the best of Arab horses. Describing the Damascene horses, experts say: “they have beautiful colors, wide eyes, big irises, soft hoofs and bald forehead, and they are thought to be the best and most pure kind of horses.”

Syria took many steps to keep the original ancestries of Syrian horses. It established the Arab Horse Department at the Agriculture Ministry in November of 1994. The department published many books that included the names of the original horses and the newly born ones in Syria.

The horse section is tasked with documenting horse information including their ancestry, characteristics, numbers, color, names of the mother and father, and the date of birth.

Later, Syria joined the 60-member states World Arabian Horse Organisation (WAHO).

 "By Syria’s membership, the association completed its form, because Syria is the origin and source of the Arab horse.”James straight, the association chairman said.

In order to keep the originality of the horse, breeders have prevented the male original horses from mixing with female ones of unknown genealogies.

Khaled Falhoot

Zalabiye, A ruin in the desert of Deir ez-Zor

Zalabiye  is an archaeological site on the left bank of the Euphrates in Deir ez-Zor city.  

Deir ez-Zor, is  the largest city in the eastern part of Syria. Located 450 km to the northeast from the capital Damascus on the shores of Euphrates River

The site is located near a narrow gap in the Euphrates Valley that is created by basalt outcrops and that is called al-khanuqa, or "the strangler". On the opposite river bank, some 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) upstream, lies the contemporary fortress of Halabiye. Zalabiye was built during the third century CE when the short-lived Palmyrene Empire centered on the oasis-city of Palmyra, extended its reach toward the Euphrates area. The fortifications of the site were subsequently improved under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527–565) as part of his program to strengthen the eastern border of the empire,according to Wikipedia.

The site originally had a rectangular shape surrounded by a fortification wall and protected by square towers. Due to poor construction, the site has suffered from earthquakes and erosion by the Euphrates. Stones have also been used as ballast for the nearby railway. Today, only the eastern wall with eight towers and a gate remains. Beyond the city walls, on Zalabiye's north and east sides, lay extensive suburbs. Approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) upstream from Zalabiye, a dam had been built in the Euphrates with a diversion canal on the river's right bank. It is thought that the canal was constructed during the first century CE or possibly even during the Late Bronze Age. The Arabs named the canal after legendary queen Semiramis.

The proposed construction of the Halabiye Dam will lead to the flooding of Zalabiye by the dam's reservoir and the Syrian government works with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNESCO to limit the impact of the dam on the ancient ruins of Halabiye and Zalabiye.

Nada Haj Khidr

St. Simeon,spending four decades of his life on a pillar

The Church of St. Simeon is a well-preserved 5th-century church in Qal'a Sim'an, an isolated site 60 km from Aleppo. It is built on the site of the pillar of St. Simeon Stylites, a famed hermit monk.

St. Simeon was born in 386 AD in a village in the Amanus Mountains. He joined a monastery in this area, but soon decided to seek the religious life alone as a hermit monk. He chose not to live in a cave, but at the top of a pillar 12 to 18 meters high! He soon attracted great crowds who came from far and near to hear him preach twice a day.

After 37 years atop his pillar, St. Simeon died in 459. His body was ceremoniously escorted to Antioch by seven bishops and several hundred soldiers, followed by a throng of devoted followers. Simeon's grave in Antioch became a major site of pilgrimage, and so did his pillar on the rocky bluff where he had spent the last four decades of his life.

Within just a few decades , a vast martyrium was built in Simeon's honor on this site. It consisted of four basilicas radiating from the sides of a central octagon, within which was enshrined the famous column.

The 5,000 square meters of floor space was nearly equal to that of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Yet, quite unlike Hagia Sophia, the Church of St. Simeon was (and is) perched atop a barren hill 60 km from the nearest city. But it was not isolated: the church was only one part of a huge, walled complex that included a monastery, two lesser churches, and several large hostels.

St. Simeon's pillar can still be seen in the center of the courtyard, although it is now only a 2 meter-high boulder due to centuries of relic-gathering by pilgrims. The courtyard is surrounded by four basilicas on a cruciform plan.

The east basilica is slightly larger than the others; it was the most important and held all the major ceremonies. Adjacent to the south wall of the eastern basilica is the chapel and the monastery.

Opposite the southern basilica is the baptistery, which was built a little after the main church but is an important part of the pilgrimage complex. To the west of the baptistery is the processional route that leads towards Deir Samaan.

There is a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside from just about anywhere at the site.


Maysa Wassouf