Syria Off The Beaten Path Tips by TheWanderingCamel Top 5 Page for this destination
Syria Off The Beaten Path: 174 reviews and 199 photos
Giant's building blocks
Well, the temple may not be lost but you could be trying to find it! It is really easy to take a wrong turn as you travel the winding roads that lead to this most remote site high in the Jebel Ansariye. The effort is worth it though. It is an extraordinary place. Massive hardly does justice to the size of some of the stone blocks used in the temple's construction. The ruin you see now is the remains of a Roman-era temple dedicated to a strange amalgamation of gods, a local version of Canaanite Baal and Greek Zeus combined and introduced into the Roman Pantheon -the Romans took a most pragmatic approach in accommodating local beliefs, but this was a cult site long before the Romans came.
Nowadays, the combination of the site's very beautiful location, its extreme isolation and the grandeur of the ruins themselves makes a visit here a unique experience. Just make sure you have a good map!
Power and might
What was in the emperor's mind when he comissioned these building here, right on the edge of the empire? A tall church and a Governor's palace, built in high Constantinople style with narrow Roman bricks and broad black stone bands - both materials that would have had to be imported from a considerable distance. There's little else left to tell us now what this place was - a scrap of the barracks is the only other thing remaining - but is seems clear that the intent was to demonstrate the power and might of the Empire.
The ruins of the basilica and the palace are substantial.
The palace, with its large central courtyard and rooms that obviously served an official function, is interesting and it is quite easy to work out the uses the building was put to.
The church is unusual in its height to floor space ratio - it is very high and must have been most imposing when its dome was in place. There are stairs to upper levels in both buildings, from where you get a good view of the surrounding flat, bare plain - you realize you really are on the edge of the desert at this point.
The flatness of the country means that see the buildings from a long way off as you approach, long before you see the low houses of the nearby village. Somehow, as you leave, if you turn back to look at them receding behind you, they look even lonelier than they do as you drive towards them.
Once there were villages of mud brick beehive houses all over the north-eastern plains of Syria. Today there are only a few and instead people live in concrete boxes. It seems a shame - the old beehives were well-suited to the climate, cool in summer and warm in winter, cheap to built from the only material readily available, their tall curved sides able to shed quickly any rain that might fall, but a concrete box is "modern" and now most of the beehives are used only for storage or for animals.
A few entrerprising owners have developed a little "beehive industry" of their own in conjunction with the Hama hoteliers and welcome visitors with tea and a chance to see how they once were furnished but it's only a facade. Very few people live like this any more.
You pass a few beehive villages on the way to Qasr ibn Wardan and if you stop to take photos you may well be invited in for tea.
The Byzantine church
St George is a much-loved saint throughout the Middle East and there has been a monastery dedicated to him here in the Wadi al Nadara since the time of the Emperor Justinian. The original chapel of the monastery lies below two later churches, one a 13th Century construction, the other a 19th Century building. These both have elaborately carved iconostases and some interesting features but it is the lowest chapel, newly restored and opened to visitors, in its simplicity and stillness that one most feels the greatest sense of ancient worship and holiness.
The monastery buildings themselves are attractive though modern. There always seems to be young students here who are happy to talk to visitors and to explain the icons in the two churches.
The monastery can be seen from Krak. To get there you must take the road from the village below Krak towards Marmita, bearing left at the first fork in the road.
Valley of churches
This beautiful valley has been a stronghold of Greek Orthodoxy since the earliest times of the church. As well as being a lovely green and fertile place it is interesting to see how different the villages look with their churches and signs of greater affluence than most parts of rural Syria. The valley is quite steep in parts and the houses cling to the hillsides with very narrow streets running through them.
The best-known sight is the mighty Krak des Chevaliers, which overlooks the valley at its eastern end. Driving the length of the valley will take you past the 13th century monastery of St George, on to Safita and eventually lead you to the coast.
A night spent there will let you hear the strange evening chorus of the wild foxes that starts at one end with a single call and is picked up in a rising crescendo all along the way and then comes back to where it started to fade away with the last of the light.
Try to approach Masyaf on the road from Hama. The impact of the sight of the great, crumbling ruin of this most famous of all the Ismaeli castles is much more striking when seen from this angle than when you come around to it from the town itself.
Whilst it may be the both the best known and the best preserved of the sect's mountain fortresses, that is not to say it lives up to that first impression once you are inside. Currently, it really is a crumbling wreck of a place, though there is talk of a restoration project to be funded by the Aga Khan's ( the Ismaeli's leader) Trust and not often open. Whether you visit or not really depends on your passion for castles and the time you have.
A hour spent wandering around the old part of the town might prove more satisfactory.
Pyramid tomb - Bauda
Right by the road from Al Bara to Serjilla there is another Dead City, Bauda. Whilst neither as attractive in its setting as Al Bara nor as complete as Serjilla, Bauda is still worth a brief stop. In quite small area there is a large group of sarcophogi, a ruinous church and a very complete pyramid tomb.
The road signs outside Ma'arat exhort drivers to "Make less speed. A place of many inhabitants". Most people just drive past, but Ma'arat is definitely worth a detour. First there is an excellent museum, housed in an impressive Ottoman khan (the biggest in Syria) where you will find wonderful mosaics and other finds from the surrounding Dead City sites. There's also a fine mosque with a minaret dating from 1170 and an ablution fountain that incorporates columns with Romano/Byzantine Corinthian capitals. If you are heading for Al Bara and the other Dead Cities of the area, the road will take you through the busy market area which in the morning is thronged with locals and people in from the desert - including Bedouin women with tattooed faces in beautifully embroidered traditional dresses. Progress will be slow as cars definitely do not take precedence here! Feel free to get out and wander awhile but cameras are not really welcome.
The church of Bissos
Ruweiha hardly deserves to be called a "Dead" City, so many of the buildings there are in such a good state of repair they are still being lived in by local people! The domed annexe to the largest church - now serving as a farmhouse - was once the tomb of a local bishop and is known as the Church of Bissos. Nearby is what looks like a toy Roman temple. This was funerary monument, and, like the other buildings at Ruweiha, is in truly remarkable condition.
Do be aware that when visiting Ruweiha you are also wandering around people's homes. There will be animals and children around, and you may encounter some rather watchful dogs.
It's only 3km from Jerada to Ruweiha.
Whilst not as far off the main Damascus-Aleppo highway as Serjilla and Al Bara, Jerada gets far fewer visitors. Here the ruins lie within a modern village. Most impressive is the 5th Century watch tower. Not only does it still stand to its full height, the massive stone door is both still in place and functioning. Look around the site and you will find a church and several houses, one of which has an interesting eagle carving on the lintel.
Take the turnoff to Babila from the highway, 14 km south of the exit for Ebla and follow the signs to GRADA
More Reviews (71)
- See All Time for tea
- See All Hama to Damascus
- See All Do you have a sweet tooth?
- See All Hama's old cars
TheWanderingCamel's Related Pages
Syria Travel Guide
Member Travel Pages
- "Land of the first Civilizations"
- "Welcome to Syria"
- "26 December 2002 - 6 January 2003"
- "Syria through the eyes of an American"
- "Syria, History and Culture."
- "Off The Beaten Path"
- See All...
- Things to Do in Syria
- Hotels in Syria
- Transportation in Syria
- Nightlife in Syria
- Restaurants in Syria
- Shopping in Syria
- Warnings and Dangers in Syria
- See All...
Explore the World
- Thessaloniki Hotels
- Jensen Beach Hotels
- Isla Naos Hotels
- San Clemente
- Kawasaki Hotels
Badges & Stats in Syria
- 174 Reviews
- 188 Photos
- 96 Forum posts
- 2 Cities
- See All Stats
- See All Badges (102)
Have you been to Syria?Share Your Travels
Latest Activity in Syria
Top 10 Pages
- Top 5 Page for this destination Uzbekistan Intro, 73 reviews, 246 photos
- Turkey Intro, 49 reviews, 221 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Croatia Intro, 54 reviews, 190 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Libya Intro, 49 reviews, 194 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Argentina Intro, 48 reviews, 185 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Bukhara Intro, 49 reviews, 165 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Samarkand Intro, 50 reviews, 161 photos, 1 travelogue
- Rome Intro, 42 reviews, 164 photos
- Buenos Aires Intro, 46 reviews, 158 photos
- Top 5 Page for this destination Moscow Intro, 83 reviews, 120 photos, 1 travelogue
FriendsSee All Friends (90)
Top Syria hotels
- Busra ash Sham Hotels
- 51 Reviews - 254 Photos
- Damascus Hotels
- 822 Reviews - 2215 Photos
- Palmyra Hotels
- 236 Reviews - 764 Photos
- Saydnaya Hotels
- 3 Reviews - 7 Photos
- Safita Hotels
- 1 Hotel
- Marmarita Hotels
- 2 Reviews
- Kassab Hotels
- 8 Reviews - 20 Photos
- Jablah Hotels
- 3 Reviews - 1 Photo
- Idlib Hotels
- 1 Hotel
- Hamah Hotels
- 131 Reviews - 421 Photos
- Aleppo Hotels
- 757 Reviews - 1848 Photos
- Baniyas Hotels
- 13 Reviews - 39 Photos
- Az Zabadani Hotels
- 1 Review
- Al Mayadin Hotels
- See nearby hotels
- Latakia Hotels
- 80 Reviews - 180 Photos