Location and description of the site
Minen (It is also said Ain Menin) is the name of a town in the Qalamoun area, administratively affiliated to the city of Al-Tall, about 18 km to the north of Damascus. The site is located in a low area about 1400 m. above sea level, where several mountain blocks containing archaeological sites surround it, including Mar Takla From the northeast, Jabal al-Ain from the northwest, and Birta and Jabal al-Adas. Despite the disagreement over the meaning of the site’s name, it appears to be related to the abundant water spring that used to cross the town, emerging from the Qalamoun Mountains and heading to Ghouta, Damascus, to water it. The site was mentioned in many ancient Arab sources, as well as in several descriptions given by some European travelers, who accounted for remains of the temples and churches that were built on the site in ancient times.
History of archaeological works
A national archeological mission has worked at the site since 1998 at the initiative of Dr. Sultan Muhesen, in which the Belgian researcher Charles Balti participated in the first season, and it was directed by Muhammad Othman and Nazeer Awad. From 2003 to 2010, Mahmoud Hammoud’s work provided many important discoveries that shed light on the history of the site and on the entire Qalamoun region.
Archaeological levels at the site
The excavations at the site enabled the identification of several levels that one can trace as follows, from the earliest till the latest:
- Prehistoric period ( Neolithic )
- Historic period (Iron Age)
- Classic era ( Roman and Byzantine periods).
- Islamic period
Historical overview of the site
Excavations and archaeological surveys conducted at the site, especially in the neighboring caves, revealed the existence of a prehistoric human settlement, represented by a group of flint tools bearing the characteristics of the Neolithic period.Minen was an important cultural and economic center during the classical era , in particular during the roman and Byzantine periods. The excavations have revealed several religious architectural units, including temples that attest to the religious life of the area. Moreover, the discovered artifacts such as pottery (bells, jugs) and statues, or objects used in the oil pressing as well as textile industry attest to the important economic role of the site in ancient times.
Main discoveries at the site
The classic era attests to the prosperity of the site starting from the Roman period, when excavations at the foot of Mount Mar Takla revealed the existence of a huge religious complex dating back to the Roman period, which includes several temples (the most important of which are two temples carved into the rock and in front of them a huge platform or a third temple), and other facilities On the roof of Jabal Al-Ain, located northwest of the town. The excavations aimed to unveil the halls carved in the rocks and clarify their religious function, as it was found that Hall (H4) is connected with Hall (H3) by means of a staircase carved into the rock with a floor on which there are three completely carved adjacent altars. On the floor in front of the altar, a marble stone statue of a woman who may have represented an ancient Greek deity was found, in addition to glass and pottery fragments. On the eastern side, there is another narrow and carved hall Hall (H5),
which was used as a room for wearing priestly garments (diaconics), as is done in some preparations before starting the rituals of worship and prayers. Thus, the function of the corresponding hall room (H4) was to receive the offerings, and vows to the deities of the neighboring temples located on the west side, during the Roman period.The excavations uncovered the details of the local religious life in the past. Hall (H6) was uncovered, which was divided into two parts, the first is high and the second is low, as ash covered a large part of the hall’s floor and its stairs, which may indicate the presence of a wooden ceiling that fell on the floor of the room after exposure to the fire. It was clear that this room is the remnants of an integrated temple dating back to the Roman period, in which we see the chapel, which is the lower part and the mastaba (the aditon), the mihrab, or the sanctuary, and represents the place where the statues of the gods are placed, which is the high part. It seems that the destruction of the temple occurred during the Islamic period.
The excavations, alsoo, revealed the existence of three temples, which can be described as follows:
- The northern temple A: It is a building carved into the rocks, with a rectangular plan view of dimensions (668 * 470 * 650) cm. The temple consists of three parts: the portico, the sanctuary and the altar. Its entrance is in the form of a large door, the lintels of which are decorated with relief engravings that include shapes drawn from the local environment, such as clusters of grapes, pomegranates, wheat ears, and branches in the form of strands.
- Southern Temple B: It is a building carved into the rock parallel to the North Temple and resembles it architecturally and architecturally, and what is striking is the presence of a courtyard in front of the two temples with dimensions (15 * 30) m. and the presence of a carefully carved wide staircase under which there is a corridor leading to the courtyard of the former temple. The temple was destroyed due to the earthquakes that struck the area in the past, and the construction of a newly developed water tank has worsened, and the deteriorating situation of the site prompted the General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums to intervene with the local authorities, which led to the transfer of the reservoir to another place.
- Temple C: It occupied the sector located to the west of the two previous temples and consisted of two parts.
It should be noted that a number of collective and individual burials of various shapes were found in the surrounding mountains, some of which were excavated in the rock or built from local limestone or depending on the stones brought from the neighboring stone quarries.
The buildings discovered at the archaeological site, such as grape presses, weaving and loom workshops, and the discovered materials such as weights in the form of stone weights, as well as a group of glass vessels and pottery cups, demonstrate the site’s economic importance, especially during the classical period. Under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, the site flourished, as early Christian accounts narrate the stay of Saint Taqla on her way to the town of Maaloula. A monastery and two churches from the Byzantine period were found, as the region witnessed the conversion of many Roman temples, which were viewed as pagan, into churches.
With the arrival of Islam, the site continued to be occupied, and it can be said that most of the current landmarks of the town belong to the ancient Islamic periods, such as the Abbasid, Mamluk and Ayyubid periods, where a mill and a bathhouse were built, as well as a number of houses in the old town. Local residents mention accounts of the existence of a number of shrines of saints spread over different periods of the Islamic era.
Finally, the excavations also revealed that the mountains surrounding the site were inhabited for intermittent periods recently, especially during the Ottoman period.
Several pottery fragments dated to the Iron Age, and a clay doll embodying a knight, as well as an ox-head doll and an incense burner, were also found. It is worth noting to find a number of Phoenician writings, seals, and statues that can be traced back to the Syrian coast, reflecting the active trade exchange between the various parts of ancient Syria.Later, during the Hellenistic period, the site flourished, as evidenced by archaeological finds such as jugs, cups and saddles, as well as storage jars that carried stamp prints with Greek inscriptions, and some bronze coins. Pottery vessels, coins and some boilers of smoke, were found attesting to the later occupation of the surrounding mountains at the site.
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