The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          



St. Simeon Church
Qalaat Samaan

Situated 60 Km from Aleppo is the well-preserved Church of St. Simeon. This beautiful church was built in honor of St. Simeon the Stylite who lived here atop a column for 37 years. This church became famous and was visited by pilgrims from all around the area.

St. Simeon was born in 386 in a village in the Amanus Mountains. His purpose of standing atop a 12 to 18 meter column, which was nearly 2 meters in diameter, was to get closer to God. People from all around came to visit him and hear him preach twice a day. His death in 459 however did not stop the visitors who went on to becoming pilgrims and the Martyrion was built in his honor (although his body was taken by a few Byzantine soldiers to Antioch and later to Constantinople). 

The cruciform church is very well preserved and is very beautiful in the spring with all the freshly bloomed flowers. It was built in 473 due to the crowds of pilgrims visiting and praying at St. Simeon's column, which is still evident as a 2 meter high boulder in the center of the courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by four basilicas in the form of a crucifix and is called the four-basilica church. The east basilica is slightly larger than the others; it was the most important and held all the major ceremonies. Adjacent to the south wall of the eastern basilica is the chapel and the monastery. Opposite the southern basilica along the sacred road called the via sacra is the baptistery, which was built a little after the main church but is an important part of the pilgrimage complex. To the west of the baptistery is the processional route that leads towards Deir Samaan.

Deir Samaan first had the name of Telanissos and was founded to capitalize on the two fertile plains that surrounded it. In the 5th century AD, the community built a monastery there and in 412 St. Simeon came to join it. He later left the community to live alone in the hill above it. The best vestiges seen in Deir Samaan are the monumental arch that is at the beginning of the via sacra which leads to the cathedral on the hill. There are two monasteries, a bazaar, a few small dwellings, and a tomb chapel.

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