day trips, Aleppo
The Church of St. Simeon (or Qala Siman as it is known to the Syrians) is about 1 hour out of Aleppo. It is the site of where St. Simeon chose to lead the religious life alone as a hermit monk. But instead of living in a cave, St. Simeon lived on top of a pillar 12-18 meters high. He used to preach atop this pillar. After his death, the church was built at the exact site of this pillar and came to be known as the Church of St. Simeon.
The ruins of this church is perched atop a barren hill and is part of a walled complex of monastery, churches and dormitories. Entrance SYP150. The church can be reached on a half-day trip.
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.
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.
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).
Ruweiha is impressive and beautiful, but not easy to be visited. Some of the ruins are used by the locals as stockyards for cows and sheep and the presence of guard dogs made my visit to the impressive –of a distance- 6th century Church of Bissos impossible. Still, there are some other interesting ruins and the place worth a visit.
The Dead City of Jerada is not dead at all. People still make their homes next to the ruins, and the villagers use some of the old houses to keep their animals. The most important sites in Jerada are a 5th century Byzantine cathedral and a big watchtower.
Al-Bara, the most extensive of the Dead Cities, was established in the 4th century. Due to its location on the trade route between Antioch and Apamea, soon became an important wine and olive oil center. Among the ruins, there are monasteries, villas and churches, while the most impressive are the pyramid tombs. The land among the ruins it is still densely cultivated with olives and grapes, something that makes walking around a little difficult.
Serjila is the most impressive of the Dead Cities, the ghost Byzantine towns that lie south of Aleppo. Strolling around Serjila, you have the feeling that its inhabitants left the town only yesterday, and not 16 centuries ago. At the center of the town, there is a square with a tavern, a bathhouse and a church. Spreading around, the extensive remains of private houses and villas shows how wealthy and prosperous this place was in the past. Admission 75SP.
The temple of Ain Dara dates back to the 10th century BC. It was dedicated to the Hittite goddess Ishtar and the legend says that the goddess herself visited the temple. As a proof of her visit, she left four 1-meter long footprints at the entrance of the temple. Today, the most impressive site at the Ain Dara (besides the footprints) is a huge statue of a basalt lion standing at the top of the hill. Admission 75SP. Open daily, morning to sunrise.
The basilica of St. Simeon is situated in the countryside north of Aleppo. St. Simeon was born in 392AD. He was about 20 years old when he decided to quit the life of a shepherd and follow the ascetic life of a monk in a monastery in Telanissos. Soon, he left the monastery to settle on the hills. To avoid the touch of people visiting to seek his blessing for some, or, according to others to get closer to God, he erected a pillar 18 meters high and 2 meters in diameter and spent on the top the rest of his life (hence the name Simon Stylites, from the Greek word “stylos”, pillar). Soon he became famous and hundreds of pilgrims came to hear his preaching twice a day. After his death in 459, a huge church was built around his pillar, with the design of four basilicas arranged in the shape of a cross. Admission 150SP. Open 9am-6pm Wednesday-Monday (April-September), 9am-4pm (October-March).
Another good day trip would be to :Qala'at Samaanor also known as The Basilica of St. Simeon.
St. Simeon was told that he lived on a pillar, preached his teachings there even.
After he died, his followers built this church at that time was the biggest church in this region.
There are obviously some good sites around Aleppo that we can go for a short day trip !
One of the best day trips would be to The Dead Cities !
There are many 'dead cities' around the southwest of Aleppo but 2 of the most-visited are :
( Click On The Links... )
The Dead Cities is a collective cities or towns which existed thousand of years ago but the inhabitants left without any good reason, hence leaving the towns (known as 'The Dead Cities') as we can see now.
The towns are of course in the state of ruins now but there are traces of bath houses, pillars to woo people coming to see these 'cities' with their own eyes !
....on a small hill overlooking the road to Saint Simeon, the 5th century church at Mushbarrak is in a remarkable state of preservation and is well worth the short detour to look at it more closely.
With its high walls, columns and capitals, domed apse and arched clerestory windows all virtually intact, it gives a very clear picture of the structure of a Byzantine basilica of this period. What is missing of course, is the colour and richness with which it would have been filled. What we see are the gaunt, bare bones of the church, now rather appropriately referred to as one of the 'Dead Cities"
Explore the area a little more and you will find the entrance to a large underground tomb and the scattered remains of a monastery.
The project of the Ath Thawra Dam that created Lake Assad is the biggest engineering work ever undertaken in Syria. The lake is huge -4.5km long, it measures 80km around its rim and 8km at it widest point.
Whatever the environmental politics of great dam projects like this are, this one does seem to be quite successful with few negative effects. What the impact in Syria of Turkey's damming of the Euphrates will be remains to be seen, but it is of great concern.
There's not a great deal to see here beyond a vast stretch of brilliant blue water. Qala'at Jaber stands on the northern rim but ,apart from the heavily restored walls, there's little here but rubble.
The lake is probably best viewed as part of a visit to Resafa.