Tags: Сирия

Last week in Syria: Damascus, Maalula and Bosra

After spending few days in ancient, but noisy and crowded capital I have visited another christian monastery. In a small village of Maalula, situated at the bed of a huge rock, I was allowed to stay overnight at St. Theqla monastery. The nuns were quite suspicious at first and I've heard stories of being rejected from staying from other travelers. But they turned to be very friendly in the end. I guess that was because Lithuania for them was nearly the same as Russia and St. Theqla monastery has strong bonds with Russian Orthodox church. Guidebooks state, that in Maalula people still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. I'm not sure about that though, as all I've heard was arabic.
The next morning I've ended up "locked" at the monastery. They were expecting a visit from some high Lebanese official and I wasn't allowed to leave. Monastery and all adjacent buildings were surrounded by suited security, kids orchestra, with soviet pioneer alike red ties, was rehearsing loud marches. I was trying to ask, who is coming for a visit, but got mixed replies: some thought it's a president of Lebanon, others told me it's their minister or general.
The official arrived covered from all sides by at least twenty security guys with the loud sounds of the march and kids waving flags - lovely orchestrated performance. They left in about an hour after a speech and posing for numerous tele and photo cameras. Few days later from internet I've found that it was pro-christian Lebanese politician Michelle Aoun, former general long hostile to Syria.
After staying in Damascus few more days I took a road south to Jordan, through the countryside dotted with roman ruins, with amphitheater in nearly every village, the most famous of them, built in second century A.D. and sitting about 15 thousand spectators, in the city of Bosra.

Maalula


Bosra theatre

Монастырь Мар Муса

До приезда я знал совсем не много об этом месте: несколько строк в интернете плюс многочисленные рекомендации там побывавших.
Мар Муса - это действующий христианский монастырь, основанный еще в 11 веке. Служба в монастыре - это поразительная смесь канонов: сирийской православной и католической церквей, с неизбежным влиянием востока. Месса ведется по арабски, иногда вставляются молитвы по французски и английски, на фоне красочных, частично восстановленных, фресок 11-13 веков, сидя по восточному скрестив ноги на многочисленных коврах. Это, не совместимое на первый взгляд, сочетание способствует межрелигиозному диалогу, как внутри христианской церкви, так и в отношениях между христианством и исламом.
Другая деталь - в Мар Мусе продолжается традиция гостеприимства первых монахов, не берется плата ни за ночлег, ни за корм. Каждый сам волен выбрать, что он хочет дать монастырю: пожертвование или же помощь в каждодневных работах. Так что в Мар Мусе предоставляется возможность пожить в древнем монастыре вместе с монахами и другими такими же посетителями, и приехав сюда на день без каких-либо ожиданий, я остался на неделю.
Монастырь расположен на склоне горы, куда ведет крутой, выложенный ступеньками, подъем, и каждый день, вставая в семь часов, мне из окна открывался потрясающий вид на пустынную долину, озаренную первыми лучами солнца. После легкого завтрака, состоящего в основном из хлеба, сыра, оливок, масла, специй и нескольких жаренных яиц, народ принимался за различные работы: готовка обеда и другие хлопоты на кухне, уборка, колка дров и тд.
После обеда я проводил время за книгами. В монастыре собрана приличная библиотека: книги по теологии, психологии, философии и истории на арабском, французском и английском.
Посещение мессы не является строго обязательным, но, на мой взгляд, служба эта очень интересна. Первая часть - это медитация в тишине, при свечах, удобно сидя на выстеленном коврами полу. Я сам предпочитаю медитировать на открытом пространстве: на природе в лесу или на вершине скалы, но тут древние фрески, освещенные светом свечей, шум ветра за стеной и равномерное потрескивание керосиновой печки делали атмосферу в церкви одновременно домашней и торжественной. После медитации пение псалом и чтение Библии по-арабски с Катехисом. В церкви большой выбор Священных писаний, была одна книга и по-русски. К накопительному опыту чтения одной книги столетиями отношусь скептически, но было интересно почитать Библию в контексте с историей Ближнего востока.
Являясь человеком верующим, но далеко не религиозным, в монастыре Мар Муса я, очень неожиданно для себя, нашел место душевного спокойствия, и по-настоящему отдохнул от всяческих забот. Очень рад, что именно сейчас выдалось сюда приехать. Ведь кто знает, может популяризация монастыря и большой наплыв туристов в будущем нарушат гармонию этого места, и останется лишь исторический объект, за осмотр которого будет браться плата на входе.

Доставка продуктов



Чистим миндаль


Спальня в монастыре



Монастырь Мар Муса

Visiting few places in Syria

After leaving Aleppo I have visited several historical cities of Syria. Picturesque castle Jabar on the shores of lake Assad, man made reservoir on Euphrates river. Ruins of ancient Palmyra, oasis in the middle of the desert. Arriving there late I've pitched my tent in the dark among the ruins, with the rows of columns rising on the horizon. That was definitely one of the most unusual places I've ever been camping at. Another advantage of staying there was possibility to see the site early in the morning before the crowds of tourists and souvenir sellers arrive. Picturing sunrise over Palmyra made me gaze in awe, with my imagination drawing scenes of how life could have been in this ancient city.
From Palmyra I have hitched to one of the most famous crusader castles in the world - Crac de chevalier. Green hills surrounding it proved high contrast the monotonous landscape of the harsh desert. The castle itself is well preserved and mighty fortress indeed, keeping me busy for several hours to see it all: from underground vaults and narrow passages to high rising towers of the citadel. It's a small city in itself with stables, bakery, church, baths, throne hall and many other adjacent buildings.
Overall, Syria is a truly great place for history lover and combining with it's relative cheapness I find it to be one of the most exciting countries in the Middle East.

First days in Syria

I've crossed the Syrian border near the Turkish town of Kilis, about 60 km south from Gaziantep. Got the visa there without any problems in about half an hour for 16 usd or 13 euro. For some reason they prefer dollars to any other currency, but have changed my euros after a while anyway. The exchange rate is 46 syrian pounds to a dollar, 58 for euro. Turkish lira is not accepted or exchanged at the border at all. It is possible to change it in Aleppo, though the rate isn't that great - 26 pounds for one lira.
After crossing the border a bunch of taxi drivers wanted to do me a favor and drive straight to Aleppo offering silly prices, but I've hitched the remaining 50 km without any trouble instead.
What can I say about Syria so far? I really love it. It is cheap and friendly, with so many historical sites dotted around it's countryside, that visiting them all would take at least several months.
The city of Aleppo is crowded and vibrant, you can really feel it's medieval atmosphere wandering the narrow streets of medina or busy alleys of the souq. The citadel of Aleppo is an impressive structure, like any other I've ever seen. No surprise, that no enemy had ever captured it throughout the history.
Entrance tickets to historical sites in Syria are a bit expensive, but there's a good news: international student card (ISIC) reduces them 10 times to the same price as locals pay. And it doesn't matter that my ISIC had expired in 2005.
Another thing I love here is food: it is so cheap, plentiful and varied that I could explore it for a whole day, just wandering the streets and trying every new thing I find.
Fresh delicious pastry; different oriental sweets filled with nuts and honey; hot sweet milk cooked in big pots, topped with cinnamon, called sahleb; similar milk, just thicker, served with pistachio nuts, honey and coconut; fresh ice cream; banana and kiwi milkshakes; fresh red pomegranate juice; the perfect snack - falafel, which actually originates from here; famous arab beans soup - fool'. That's just a few things I've tried in half a day of exploring, spending less then 3 usd for all of that.
The thing I am thinking of right now is where to extend my 16 days visa, as I am spending already 4th day in Aleppo only with places like Damascus and Palmyra still to come.
There must be something bad or negative to that all, right? There is one thing - that's syrian internet. It's rare, slow and expensive, so no photos so far unfortunately.
Moreover all that abundance makes me feel like a tourist, but not a traveler anymore. But thanks to couchsurfing I am meeting people and getting experience of local lifestyle.