When the Omayyad Mosque of Damascus was built in the early 8th century, the best architects and craftsmen of the displaced Eastern Roman Empire (i.e. Byzantine) were employed for the monumental construction. They utilised techniques developed in church construction and building materials from the Church of Saint John the Baptist to construct an imperial mosque on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Jupiter. The result was a mosque exhibiting strong Byzantine characteristics. The attached photos show the striking similarity in design between the Omayyad Mosque and Mushabbak Church...
The interior of Mushabbak Church is in an incredible state of preservation. The church has a triple nave separated by high arches that are supported by Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns. The western end of the church, seen in the attached photograph, has several arched windows that one could easily imagine with stained glass. Just add a ceiling and the church would be as good as new!
The town of Daret Azzeh is located about 5 minutes away from Mushabbak Church. While not a glamour spot, Daret Azzeh is a good place for a break when visiting some of the desolate 'dead cities' of this part of Syria. The attached photo is of Daret Azzeh as seen from the road.
Mushabbak Church is decorated with circular Byzantine symbols frequently seen in other 'dead cities' of northwestern Syria. Although some are religious, these circular symbols are mainly decorative, and are often placed above windows or doorways. Many of these circular figures have survived in Syrian architecture through the 19th century.
Separating the three naves of the church are columns with alternating Corinthian, Doric and Ionic capitals. The columns support wide arches, above which are smaller arched windows that allowed light to flood the church. The state of preservation of the arches and columns is unbelievable. Upon visiting this church, I could not help but notice the similarity between the arches of Mushabbak Church and those I had previously seen at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus (see next tip).
The eastern end of the Church has a large apse (see attached photo), not too different from that in the Eastern Basilica of Saint Simeon, albeit smaller. The apse is supported by two Corinthian columns and is pierced with two arched windows. On either side of the apse are two small chambers.
For 1500 years, the Church of Mushabbak has stood alone on a barren hill off the important pilgrimage road to Saint Simeon. Mushabbak was once the pilgrims' first stop on this much travelled road and a prelude to the final destination. The abandoned church continues to dominate the modern road from Aleppo to the Martyrium of Saint Simeon and is still frequently a first stop along a tourist's journey - today's modern pilgrim.
Attached is a photo of the southern façade of Mushabbak Church. Nearly identical to the northern façade, this side has two doorways. Two of the arched windows seem to have been blocked at some point after the construction of the church - unclear why. Above the two doorways are holes lined in a triangular shape, likely to support wooden beams of an awning.
The landscape around Mushabbak Church is made of limestone rocks and very thin soil. It is thus very barren with little vegetation, but the limestone has provided this area with an endless supply of building materials. Even in spring when the area is supposed to be in its greenest season, the landscape was quite arid and barren. Attached are a couple of photos.
Just west of the church are dwellings of very poor shepherds who have taken shelter on site. Although they could very easily have utilised Mushabbak Church as their home, simply by adding a ceiling, they built their own houses using stones from the areas around. They and their sheep seem to be used to visitors and simply mind their own business.
The attached photo shows the incredible state of preservation of the western façade of Mushabbak Church. Although it is missing some stones from its upper most part, it still shows the form of the church quite clearly and where the tilted wooden ceiling once was. The numerous windows must have allowed afternoon and early evening sunshine into the church.
A large square hole in the ground, cut through the rocks, is located immediately to the south-west of the church. It is thought that this was the quarry which provided the stones used in the construction of the church. The crater was later used as a water cistern.
A short unpaved uphill road must be traversed to reach Mushabbak Church. Upon arrival, one finds oneself in front of the northern façade of the church. This side contains the church's main entrance, which leads into the centre of the Nave.
Although flat on the outside, the Eastern Façade hides the curved apse on its interior. Double arched windows pierce this side of the church and look into the apse.