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Overview of Maaloula, 2006
Overview of Maaloula, 2006
Maaloula is located in Syria
Location in Syria
Coordinates: 33°50′39″N 36°32′48″E / 33.84417°N 36.54667°E / 33.84417; 36.54667
Country Syria
GovernorateRif Dimashq
1,500 m (4,900 ft)
 (2004 census)[1]
 • Total2,762

Maaloula (Arabic: مَعلُولَا; Western Neo-Aramaic: ܡܥܠܘܠܐ ,מעלולא, romanized: Maʿlūlā) is a town in the Rif Dimashq Governorate in Syria. The town is located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus and is built into the rugged mountainside at an altitude of more than 1,500m. It is known as one of two remaining villages where Western Neo-Aramaic is spoken, the other one being the nearby smaller village of Jubb'adin. Until the Syrian Civil War, Bakhʽa also had speakers of Western Neo-Aramaic. However, Bakhʽa was completely destroyed during the war, and all the survivors fled to other parts of Syria or to Lebanon.[2]


Maʿlūlā is said to derive from the Aramaic word maʿəlā, meaning "entrance". The name is romanized in multiple different ways, such as Maaloula, Ma'loula, Maalula, Ma'lula, Malula. However, "Maaloula" is the most common one.[3]


In 1838, its inhabitants were Antiochan Greek Orthodox Christians, Melkite Catholics, and a minority of Sunni Muslims.[4] Presently, the population maintains religious diversity, with both Christians and Muslims identifying ethnically as Arameans (Syriacs)[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13] Notably, the Muslim inhabitants have a remarkable legacy as they haven’t embraced an Arab ethnic identity, unlike the majority of other Syrians who underwent Islamization and, consequently, Arabization over the centuries.[14]

Half a century ago, 15,000 people lived in Maaloula.[15]

According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, Maaloula had a population of 2,762 in the 2004 census.[1] However, during summer, it increases to about 10,000, due to people coming from Damascus for holidays.[16]


With two other nearby towns, Bakh'a and Jubb'adin, Maaloula is the only place where a Western Aramaic language is still spoken, which it has been able to retain amidst the rise of Arabic due to its distance from other major cities and its isolating geological features. However, modern roads and transportation, as well as accessibility to Arabic-language television and print media – and for some time until recently, also state policy – have eroded that linguistic heritage.

As the last remaining area where Western Neo-Aramaic is still spoken, the three villages represent an important source for anthropological linguistic studies regarding first century Western Aramaic. According to scholarly consensus, the language of Jesus was a Western Middle Aramaic variety, Galilean Aramaic.


There are two important monasteries in Maaloula: the Melkite monastery of Mar Sarkis and the Antiochan Convent of Saint Thecla.

Saint Sarkis Monastic Complex

The monastic complex of Saint Sarkis

The Saint Sarkis Monastic Complex of Maaloula is one of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria. It was built on the site of a pagan temple, and has elements which go back to the fifth to sixth century Byzantine period.[17]

Saint Sarkis is the Aramaic name for Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs. This monastery still maintains its solemn historical character.

The monastery has two of the oldest icons in the world, one depicting the Last Supper.

Convent of Saint Thecla

The Convent of Saint Thecla

This convent holds the remains of Thecla, which the second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla accounts a noble virgin and pupil of Paul the Apostle. According to later legend not in the Acts, Thecla was being pursued by soldiers of her father to capture her because of her Christian faith. She came upon a mountain, and after praying, the mountain split open and let her escape through. The town gets its name from this gap or entrance in the mountain. However, there are many variations to this story among the residents of Maaloula.

Other monasteries

There are also the remains of numerous monasteries, convents, churches, shrines and sanctuaries. There are some that lie in ruins, while others continue to stand, defying age. Many pilgrims come to Maaloula, both Muslim and Christian, and they go there to gain blessings and make offerings.

View over the town of Maaloula from East to West (2007)

War in Syria

Maaloula became the scene of battle between the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group Al-Nusra Front and the Syrian Army in September 2013.[18]

The insurgents took over the town on October 21. Around 13 people were killed, with many more wounded.[19]

On October 28, government forces recaptured the town.[19]

Maaloula was taken over by al-Nusra Front, opposing the Syrian government, again on December 3, 2013. The group took 12 Orthodox nuns as hostages.[20] The nuns were moved between different locations and ended up in Yabroud where they were held for three months. Officials from Lebanon negotiated a deal for their release. Those negotiations produced an agreement on a prisoner exchange under which around 150 Syrian women detained by the government were also freed.[21] After the nuns were freed on 9 March 2014, they stated that they were mostly treated well by their captors.[22][failed verification][23]

On 14 April 2014, with the help of Hezbollah and SSNP, the Syrian Army once more took control of Maaloula. This government success was part of a string of other successes in the strategic Qalamoun region, including the seizure of the former rebel bastion of Yabroud in the previous month.[24][25]

Virgin Mary statue

External image
image icon image of Lady of Peace statue

The people of Maaloula celebrated as a new statue of Mary, mother of Jesus was erected in its centre, replacing the figure destroyed in Islamists attacks in 2013. On 13 June 2015, Syrian officials unveiled the new statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in a white robe topped with a blue shawl, her hands lifted in prayer. The fibreglass figure stood at just over 3 metres (10 feet) tall and was placed on the base of the original statue.[26]

The statue is titled "Lady of Peace" (Arabic: سيدة السلام[romanization needed]).


Climate data for Maaloula
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 7.1
Daily mean °C (°F) 2.7
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) −1.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 46

Sister city

See also


  1. ^ a b General Census of Population and Housing 2004. Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Rif Dimashq Governorate. (in Arabic)
  2. ^ "The Village of Bakh'a in Qalamoun: Interview". 26 January 2020.
  3. ^ Etymology of Maaloula, in
  4. ^ Smith, in Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 3, 2nd appendix, p. 172
  5. ^ Abū al-Faraj ʻIshsh. اثرنا في الايقليم السوري (in Arabic). Al-Maṭbaʻah al-Jadīdah. p. 56. السريان في معلولا وجبعدين ولا يزال الأهلون فيها يتكلمون
  6. ^ iنصر الله، إلياس أنطون. إلياس أنطون نصر الله في معلولا (in Arabic). لينين. p. 45. ... معلولا السريان منذ القديم ، والذين ثبتت سريانيتهم بأدلة كثيرة هم وعين التينة وبخعا وجبعدين فحافظوا على لغتهم وكتبهم أكثر من غيرهم . وكان للقوم في تلك الأيام لهجتان ، لهجة عاميّة وهي الباقية الآن في معلولا وجوارها ( جبعدين وبخعا ) ...
  7. ^ Rafik Schami (25 July 2011). Märchen aus Malula (in German). Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH & Company KG. p. 151. ISBN 9783446239005. Ich kenne das Dorf nicht, doch gehört habe ich davon. Was ist mit Malula?‹ fragte der festgehaltene Derwisch. >Das letzte Dorf der Aramäer< lachte einer der…
  8. ^ Yaron Matras; Jeanette Sakel (2007). Grammatical Borrowing in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. De Gruyter. p. 185. doi:10.1515/9783110199192. ISBN 9783110199192. The fact that nearly all Arabic loans in Ma'lula originate from the period before the change from the rural dialect to the city dialect of Damascus shows that the contact between the Aramaeans and the Arabs was intimate…
  9. ^ Dr. Emna Labidi (2022). Untersuchungen zum Spracherwerb zweisprachiger Kinder im Aramäerdorf Dschubbadin (Syrien) (in German). LIT. p. 133. ISBN 9783643152619. Aramäer von Ǧubbˁadīn
  10. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold; P. Behnstedt (1993). Arabisch-aramäische Sprachbeziehungen im Qalamūn (Syrien) (in German). Harassowitz. p. 42. ISBN 9783447033268. Die arabischen Dialekte der Aramäer
  11. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold; P. Behnstedt (1993). Arabisch-aramäische Sprachbeziehungen im Qalamūn (Syrien) (in German). Harassowitz. p. 5. ISBN 9783447033268. Die Kontakte zwischen den drei Aramäer-dörfern sind nicht besonders stark.
  12. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold (2006). Lehrbuch des Neuwestaramäischen (in German). Harrassowitz. p. 133. ISBN 9783447053136. Aramäern in Ma'lūla
  13. ^ Prof. Dr. Werner Arnold (2006). Lehrbuch des Neuwestaramäischen (in German). Harrassowitz. p. 15. ISBN 9783447053136. Viele Aramäer arbeiten heute in Damaskus, Beirut oder in den Golfstaaten und verbringen nur die Sommermonate im Dorf.
  14. ^ Provence, Michael (2005). The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism. University of Texas Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-292-70680-4.
  15. ^ Sly, Liz (2003-03-12). "Language of Jesus clings to life". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on April 7, 2024.
  16. ^ "HIS SPOKEN WORD: Preserving the LORD's language". 30 March 2002. Archived from the original on 30 March 2002.
  17. ^ Ross Burns, The Monuments of Syria, I. B. Taurus, 3rd edition 2009, p. 193.
  18. ^ "Syria rebels withdraw from ancient Christian town of Maaloula". BBC News. September 6, 2013.
  19. ^ a b "Islamists besiege Christian villages in Syria | Barnabas - Christian persecution". Archived from the original on 2013-12-07. Retrieved 2013-12-03.
  20. ^ "Syria Nun Kidnapping: Greek Orthodox Patriarch Urges Release of Maaloula Sisters". International Business Times UK. 3 December 2013.
  21. ^ Salma Abdelaziz and Ashley Fantz (9 March 2014). "Reports: 13 nuns freed by kidnappers in Syria". CNN.
  22. ^ "Nuns yet to reach Syria after reported release by rebels". Reuters. 9 March 2014 – via
  23. ^ "Syria rebels free kidnapped nuns". BBC News. 10 March 2014.
  24. ^ "Syria troops retake Christian town of Maalula". Yahoo! News. Agence France-Presse. Archived from the original on 2014-04-17.
  25. ^ "Syria rebels driven from Christian town of Maaloula". BBC News. 14 April 2014. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Ancient Syrian Christian town dedicates new Virgin Mary statue". NDTV. Retrieved 9 May 2020.
  27. ^ "Climate: Maaloula, Syria". Retrieved November 11, 2017.


33°50′39″N 36°32′48″E / 33.84417°N 36.54667°E / 33.84417; 36.54667

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