Syria’s Ancient Christian Sites Damaged by Fighting

Mar Takla church, Maaloula, Syria (2007). Photo: Sergenious, via Panoramio.

According to the Syrian government, ancient Christian sites in Maaloula, a small town 35 miles northeast of Damascus, have been extensively damaged by fighting since September, reports the Art Newspaper.

The town, one of the only places in the world where Aramaic—the language spoken during Jesus’s lifetime—is still spoken, was recaptured from rebels by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces last month. A report from the Syrian directorate general of antiquities and museums claims that rebels have looted religious artifacts and that the town’s religious sites, which include a fourth century Greek Catholic monastery, Mar Sarkis—which is among the world’s oldest churches—have suffered significant damage.

Mar Sarkis is perched atop a cliff that overlooks Maaloula, and was likely a strategic base during the fighting. The church’s main dome is said to have been destroyed, which may have harmed roof timbers as much as 2,000 years old. Important icons, a marble altar, and other antiquities have all been removed from the church, likely stolen, although possibly evacuated. The report claims that “drilling operations were carried out under the altar in search of treasures.” Historic caves on the cliffside, which may have been home to prehistoric humans as many as 50,000 years ago, have been vandalized as well, and transformed into barricades.

The town is also home to a comparatively modern Greek Orthodox convent, Mar Takla (still located on an ancient site). There, a cave shrine has been burned, icons and religious objects were stolen or destroyed, and the church was lit on fire.

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