Overview of Maaloula
|Governorate||Rif Dimashq Governorate|
|Elevation||1,500 m (4,900 ft)|
Maaloula or Maҁlūlā (Aramaic: ܡܥܠܘܠܐ - מעלולא; Arabic: معلولا Maʿlūlā) is a town in the Rif Dimashq Governorate in Syria. The town is located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus and built into the rugged mountainside, at an altitude of more than 1500 m. It is known as one of three remaining villages where Western Neo-Aramaic is spoken, the other two being the nearby villages Jubb'adin and Bakhah.
Maʿlūlā is from the Aramaic word maʿʿəlā (ܡܥܠܐ), meaning 'entrance'. The name is written in English and other Indo-European languages in multiple different ways, e.g. Maaloula, Ma'loula, Maalula, Ma'lula, Malula. However, "Maaloula" is the most common one.
According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, Maaloula had a population of 2,762 in the 2004 census. However, during summer, it increases to about 10,000, due to people coming from Damascus for holidays. Half a century ago, 15,000 people lived in Maaloula.
Religiously, the population consists of both Christians (mainly members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church) and Muslims. For the Muslim inhabitants, the legacy is all the more remarkable given that they were not Arabised, unlike most other Syrians who like them were Islamised over the centuries but also adopted Arabic and shifted to an Arab ethnic identity.
With two other nearby towns al-Sarkha (Bakhah) (Arabic: بخعة/الصرخه) and Jubb'adin (Arabic: جبّعدين), Maaloula is the only place where a Western Aramaic language is still spoken, which it has been able to retain amidst the rise of Arabic due to its distance from other major cities and its isolating geological features. However, modern roads and transportation, as well as accessibility to Arabic-language television and print media - and for some time until recently, also state policy - have eroded that linguistic heritage.
As the last remaining area where Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken, the three villages represent an important source for anthropological linguistic studies regarding first century Western Aramaic. According to scholarly consensus, the language of Jesus was also a Western Aramaic dialect; more specifically the Galilean variety of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic.
Despite frequent misstatements in the media, however, the Neo-Aramaic spoken in Maaloula, Bakhah and Jubb'adin is no longer identical to the dialect which Jesus of Nazareth spoke, firstly it evolved from a separate Western Aramaic dialect than the Galilean dialect of Jesus, and secondly, as a part of natural language evolution it has undergone significant changes since the first century AD (~2,000 years ago) in a similar way that Old English (~1,000 years ago) and even Middle English (~500 years ago) may be unintelligible to Modern English speakers.
Saint Sarkis Monastic Complex
Saint Sarkis Monastic Complex of Maaloula is one of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. It was built on the site of a pagan temple, and has elements which go back to the fifth to sixth century Byzantine period. Saint Sarkis is the Assyrian name for Saint Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs. This monastery still maintains its solemn historical character.
The monastery has two of the oldest icons in the world, one depicting the Last Supper.
Saint Thecla Monastic Complex
This monastery holds the remains of Thecla, which the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla accounts a noble virgin and pupil of St. Paul. According to later legend not in the Acts, Thecla was being pursued by soldiers of her father to capture her because of her Christian faith. She came upon a mountain, and after praying, the mountain split open and let her escape through. The town gets its name from this gap or entrance in the mountain. However, there are many variations to this story among the residents of Maaloula.
There are also the remains of numerous monasteries, convents, churches, shrines and sanctuaries. There are some that lie in ruins, while others continue to stand, defying age. Many pilgrims come to Maaloula, both Muslim and Christian, and they go there to gain blessings and make offerings.
War in Syria
Syrian rebels took over the town on October 21. Around 13 people were killed, with many more wounded.
On October 28, government forces recaptured the town.
Maaloula was taken over by al-Nusra Front, opposing the Syrian government, again on December 3, 2013. The Front took 12 orthodox nuns as hostages. The nuns were moved between different locations and ended up in Yabroud where they stayed for three months. Then, officials from Qatar and Lebanon negotiated a deal for their release. Those negotiations produced an agreement on a prisoner exchange under which around 150 Syrian women detained by the government were also freed. After the nuns were freed on the 9th of March 2014, they stated that they were treated well by their captors.
On 14 April 2014, with the help of Hezbollah and SSNP, the Syrian Army once more took control of Maaloula. This government success was part of a string of other successes in the strategic Qalamoun region, including the seizure of the former rebel bastion of Yabroud in the previous month.
Virgin Mary statue
The people of Maaloula celebrated as a new statue of the Virgin Mary was erected in its centre, replacing the figure destroyed in rebel attacks in 2013. On 13 June 2015, Syrian officials unveiled the new statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in a white robe topped with a blue shawl, her hands lifted in prayer. The fiberglass figure stood at just over 3 metres (10 feet) tall and was placed on the base of the original statue.
The statue is titled as Lady of Peace (Arabic: سيدة السلام).
|Climate data for Maaloula|
|Average high °C (°F)||7.1
|Daily mean °C (°F)||2.7
|Average low °C (°F)||−1.8
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||46
- General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Rif Dimashq Governorate. (in Arabic)
- Sly, Liz (2003-03-12). "Language of Jesus clings to life". Chicago Tribune.
- Provence, Michael (2005). The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism. University of Texas Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-292-70680-4.
- Black, Ian (2009-04-14). "Endangered Aramaic language makes a comeback in Syria". The Guardian. London.
- Ross Burns, The Monuments of Syria, I. B. Taurus, 3rd edition 2009, p. 193.
- "Syria rebels withdraw from ancient Christian town of Maaloula". BBC News. September 6, 2013.
- http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/09/world/meast/syria-nuns-freed/ ,CNN nuns agreement
- https://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/09/us-syria-crisis-nuns-idUSBREA280EL20140309 , Reuters nuns freed
- https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26510202 ,bbc Nuns treated well
- "BBC News - Syria rebels driven from Christian town of Maaloula". BBC News. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
- "Ancient Syrian Christian town dedicates new Virgin Mary statue". Mail Online. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
- "Climate: Maaloula, Syria". Retrieved November 2017. Check date values in:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maalula.|
- A web site dedicated to Maaloula
- New York Times article on Aramaic language in Maaloula and other villages in Syria
- Syrian village clings to Aramaic language at Al Jazeera English
- An episode from Australian program, Foreign Correspondent, about Maaloula.
- The dialect of Maalula. Grammar, vocabulary and texts. (1897–1898) By Jean Parisot (in French): Parts 1, 2, 3 at the Internet Archive.
- Samples of spoken Maaloula Aramaic at the Semitisches Tonarchiv (Semitic Audio Archive)