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Aleppo Off The Beaten Path: 90 reviews and 174 photos
One of the best-preserved churches in the 'dead cities' of northwestern Syria, al-Mushabbak is located about halfway between Aleppo and Saint Simeon. The church dates from the late 5th century AD and was built to provide an initial stop along the important pilgrimage route to Saint Simeon. As a result, the best craftsmen and architects were provided for the construction, as evidenced by the church's architecture. Mushabbak Church has survived remarkably intact: if a roof, windows and a door were added, the church would be complete. It is located a mere 25 minute drive from Aleppo, only a short detour from the main road. It is thus still an indespensible stop along the route to Saint Simeon. For more on this abandoned Byzantine church, check out my page on Mushabbak Church.
Springtime in Saint Simeon
One of the largest churches in Christendom, the Church of Saint Simeon stands in partial ruins in the countryside of Aleppo. It was built in the late 5th century AD by Emperor Zeno on the site of the pillar on which an ascetic Syrian shepherd spent a long period of his life in isolation. The enormous martyrium-church, consisting of four Basilicas laid out in a cruciform plan, each large enough to be a cathedral by its own merit, was a tribute to the influential life of a saint whose inspiration reached the ends of the Christian world. Despite its ruined state, the martyrium of Saint Simeon continues to be one of early Christianity's greatest churches. Saint Simeon is located about 45 minutes north-west of Aleppo. For additional information, check out the page on Qala'at Sema'an, as it is known in Arabic.
Dead City of Serjilla
Some 700 "Dead Cities" lie to the west and southwest of Aleppo. These dead cities are better described as abandoned villages dating from Roman and Byzantine times, but seem more like ghost towns whose inhabitants left just recently. This is due to their amazingly well-preserved buildings, including churches, palaces, and olive presses. There were several reasons why their inhabitants abandoned these villages by the 11th century AD. The brief Persian occupation in the 6th century was quite destructive. Soon afterwards, the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century AD resulted in the transfer of the centre of power from Antioch to Damascus which led to the decline of the area as a whole. This was coupled with the unintended decline of the agricultural practises and the associated industries (olive oil, wine, etc.)
Aleppo is a convenient base for those wishing to explore the dead cities of northern Syria. The most famous of those are Saint Simeon, Qalb Lozeh, and Serjilla. The easiest way to tour some of them would be to rent a car with a local driver, but the more adventurous could drive themselves (as my group did). Beware though, roads are terrible, road signs even worse and maps may not be dependable!
Any day trip one takes outside Aleppo, whether to Byzantine dead cities or ancient archeological sites, such as Ebla, one will drive through very scenic Aleppine countryside. The country surrounding Aleppo varies from arid to highly agriculture and is dotted with small agricultural villages (see attached photos).
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