Though difficult to discern in the attached photo due to mist, Mount Hermon is quite visible from Qanawat. The town is situated on the western facing slopes of Jebel al-Arab, the volcanic mountain plateau known as the Hauran, which rises to a height of 1800 metres. Thus, Qanawat is graced by unobstructed views westwards over the Hauran and Golan plains (ancient Auranitis and Gaulanitis), with the snow-capped Mount Hermon (Jebel al-Sheikh) in the distant backgound. This photo was taken from the platform of the Temple of Helios.
The Hauran countryside just outside Qanawat is blessed with a fertile soil and relatively abundant water. This is all the more a contrast in a region generally known for its desert and aridity. On the western slopes of the Hauran just outside Qanawat are not only farms, vineyards and olive groves, but surprisingly also large oak tree forests. Perhaps these are the same forests mentioned in the Bible! Hard to believe but the great Syrian Desert begins on the other side of these hills.
Built in the 2nd century AD, the Western Basilica of the Seraya was reconfigured in the 4th century AD into a Christian place of worship. Archaeologists are uncertain of its original function, which may have been a pagan temple or a government building, perhaps a basilica (non-religious). Its orientation was north-south, with its entrance from the north through a portico with a row of Corinthian columns, some of which are still standing on the northern side. In the 4th century AD, the edifice was converted into a church and its orientation changed to east-west to conform with the new Christian tradition. Thus, the entrance of the church was moved to the western side and the façade we have today was reconstructed in this period, though using pre-existing stones. It is pierced by three doorways, framed by beautifully carved decorations of vines and grapes, for which surrounding farms were renowned. The interior of the church had three naves, separated by rows of columns, and an apse was constructed at its eastern end. On the right hand side is a three-bay niche, thought to have been used as a martyrium, with some painted frescoes still surviving. It seems that local Christians continue to light candles in this niche to the present day. A doorway to the right of the apse of the church leads into the ruins of porticoed courtyard.
For more detailed photos, take a look at the travelogue: "The Seraya: Western Basilica."
On the north-eastern side of the Seraya complex are the ruins of additional buildings. One part is thought to have been used as a baptistry, but the rest is believed to be residential, possibly belonging to a monastery adjacent to the Eastern Basilica. There are also the remains of a tower.
The Town Hall square is the focal centre of the modern town of Qanawat. Many of the town's buildings were constructed in the past couple of centuries, often using materials from the Roman ruins of Canatha. This square is a great place to see some of the recycling of materials. First, the Town Hall itself sits atop a section of the Roman baths and a close look at the lintel above the buildings entrance reveals intricate Roman decorations similar to those seen at the Seraya. In addition, opposite the building are two standing Roman period columns, while the paving of the square itself is probably of Roman origin.
Adjacent to the eastern wall of the Eastern Basilica are the remains of a mausoleum. It contains several burial slots as well as a number of stone sarcophagi carved with crosses and other decorations.
Adjacent to the Western Basilica is yet another paleo-Christian basilica. The structure was originally built in the 3rd century AD, possibly as an agora, i.e. forum or market place. It consisted of long rectangular open atrium, with a north-south orientation, surrounded by colonnaded porticoes. In the 4th or 5th century AD, the structure was reconfigured into a church. It was split through the middle into two sections, separated by the façade of the new church, which was constructed using pre-existing stones. The northern half of the atrium remained largely the same, an open-air courtyard with colonnaded porticoes preceding the church. The southern half became the church proper, entered from the north through the courtyard and the newly constructed façade, which has survived mostly intact to the present day with some exquisite decorations. The columns of the original atrium were retained inside the church, while a rounded altar facing east was constructed and is still discernible to the present day.
For more detailed photos, take a look at the travelogue: "The Seraya: Eastern Basilica."
Built in the 2nd century AD, probably on the site of an older Nabatean/Semitic temple, these ruins are of a temple attributed to Zeus. It consisted of a four-columned portico preceding an inner sanctuary (the cella). The foundation and floor are still place, but much of the rest has disappeared, with the exception of one corner wall and a few column bases or carved capitals. Early 20th century photos of this temple show a much more complete edifice, but unfortunately it did not survive well in the past 100 years. The Temple of Zeus is located south-west of the Seraya, near the water cistern.
The best preserved of the ancient ruins in Canatha is this complex of buildings known as the Seraya (i.e., seraglio or palace). It was named so probably because of the grandeur of the edifice, rather than ever being used as a palace. In fact, it is composed of two adjacent paleo-Christian basilicas, a courtyard, a baptistry and a small mausoleum, all reconfigured in the 4th and 5th century AD for Christian worship. Materials for the remodelling came from the older buildings and contain intricately carved and well-preserved pagan decorative motifs. The original structures were built under the Romans in the 2nd century AD as non-religious buildings, though their exact use is still uncertain.
Standing majestically to the present day, the seven tall Corinthian columns of the Temple of Helios make it easy to imagine how impressive this temple, dedicated to the sun god Helios, might have once been. It was built around 200 AD as a peripteral temple, i.e. with columns running along its entire perimeter, located extra-muros, just west of Canatha's centre. Its position, raised on a platform with western views extending over the Hauran plains and all the way to Mount Hermon, is quite suitable for the worship of a sun god, particularly as the sun is setting. Little of the actual temple has remained, but the faded carvings on the bases of the columns hint at the beauty of the original structure.
Located in the centre of the modern town, adjacent to the Municipal Town Hall, are the ruins of the Roman Baths of Canatha. They date from the 2nd century AD and were built following the Roman imperial design. What is visible is perhaps only a small part of the original edifice as about two-thirds lie underneath the adjacent mosque and town hall building.
Located at the bottom of Wadi al-Ghar, the gorge that runs through Qanawat, this ruined is structure is described as a Nymphaeum. The reality is that archaeologists are unsure whether it was a nymphaeum or simply a temple. Either way, it is known to date to the 3rd century AD. The structure is near the Odeon and can also be seen from the road that runs along the upper edge of the gorge.
Seen through the trees in this photo (near bottom) are the steps of the Odeon of Canatha. This small theatre is in ruins today but in its heyday had nine rows of seats and measured 46 metres in width. It was built in the second half of the 3rd century AD against the edge of a deep gorge that runs through Canatha, known as Wadi al-Ghar. This valley is located north-east of the Seraya and can be viewed from the road above that curves around town from the Seraya to the Municipal Building.
Located just outside the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, south-west of the Seraya, are the ruins of an Roman-period underground water cistern. For a city named after the aqueducts and canals that transported water to the farms nearby (Qanawat in Arabic means canals), the sight of a water cistern is no surprise. This cistern is thought to be one of many around town and is in an incredible state of preservation, if missing its entire roof. The pillars and arches which supported the roof are all intact.
My introduction and that of other contributers should fill you in on Qanawat and the significance of Seraglio as a 2nd century temple turned into a basilica for early Christian worship. This trip can be done in a day trip from Damascus, and if one leaves the city early enough, Busra can also be included in the day. About 30 minutes is all one needs at Seraglio, while Busra can be an all day wander. However, the narrow winding road between the two is in a lovely agricultural setting of low rolling hills.