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Description and History of The Villages

The name «villages of the calcic massif» is given to mountains that are located in north- western of Syria. This massif expands on a wide area between the Turkish frontiers in the north and the ancient ruins of Apamia, over an area of 100 km long and 15-20 km wide. It is circumscribed with valleys of Breen and Orontes in the west and with Aleppo plain in the east.

This region consists of a series of curved wavy hills of different heights 400-900 m. It overlooks two main massifs al-Zawia and Simeon  mountains, which are separated with the fertile plain of Shalsis. These two massifs connect with a series of mountains: al-Wastani, al-Dweli, al-‘Ala and Baresha.

These villages, with over 800 archaeological sites and villages, were built between the first and seventh centuries AD. Some of them are still inhabited today, and those, which were deserted, are located in Aleppo and Idlib governorates.

The archaeological villages north of Syria is inscribed on the list of the world civilized heritage as «cultural landscape». This name is identical to the definition «the shared work between man and nature», and it shows «development and stability of society through time under the impact of the material conditions and the possibilities offered by their natural environment».

Three of these parks are located over the northern series of Simeon  mountain, and the rest five are located on the series of the other limestone massif south- west of Simeon  mountain in Idlib governorate.

Within these regions to different extent, and less than 10 km far, there are main and common sites (Serjella, Saint Simeon  and Qalb Lozeh Church), in addition to sites of less fame but of similar importance, small isolated and uninhabited sites, other sites partly reuse as new dwellings, and natural farming lands. The eight parks spread over the entire main mountain series forms the calcic massif and present a unique image of the complexity and richness of the site.

Due to the relative overpopulation of the neighboring plains, the villagers had settled on the calcic massifs since the first century, reclaimed the lands for farming and put demarcation divisions between the properties. The ruling class had established cadastral scheme concerning the properties in order to control this spontaneous movement of settlement. This was executed on natural space through a net of low stone walls in orthogonal form in the north-southern and east-western sides on an area of hundreds km2. The farmers, who executed the difficult part of the work, remained poor, built their houses with rubble stone walls, and planted grains like wheat and barley, vegetables and fruitful trees, along with breeding big and small animals, and the big number of cribs are still visible in the villages.

The economic prosperity and production deteriorated between 250-330 AD because of the plague which spread in the region in 250 AD, and the wars that broke out between the Persians and the Roman Empire.

The expansion had powerfully regained momentum in 330 AD on the population and economic fields, and then stopped completely from 540 till 550 AD. During this expansion, there was overpopulation for three or four times. The economic prosperity made the region in flourish in quality and quantity. The farmers, who had multiplied and owned lands of average area, became rich, achieved agricultural plenty and had the ability to build houses in the Roman style but more expensively and expansively.

The farmers in Syria saw radical change when they had gave up the paganism and embraced Christianity.

Aerial View St Simeon church – Jabal Samaan – Aleppo countryside 

Stone Carving decoration in the Calcic massif

Banasra _ Jabal al- Wastani_Idlib countryside

Wadi Martahun_Jabal al-Zawia_ Idlib countryside 

Playing an important role in this change were the Ascetics, who settled in the calcic massif since the beginning of the fourth century, and who lived an ascetic life and had a good reputation among the farmers who saw them as the protectors and miracle holders.Some of these ascetics had settled in monasteries ruled by patriarchs since the fifth century. Since the second half of the fourth century until the sixth century, the farmers built more churches that appeared in all villages.Saint Simeon  is considered the first and greatest Baptist. He had great reputation in the Mediterranean region because he was the most famous and influential among saints. During the Roman period, his reputation reached to the west. Everything had changed from 540 till 550, when Syria suffered famine and epidemics, as the plague, in addition to wars, which erupted again between the Persians and the Romans, increasing the numbers of the dead people and continuously decreasing inhabitants.

So most inhabitants deserted the calcic massif at the beginning of the 8th century till it became semi empty in the 10th century; thus keeping the Classic villages and agricultural properties preserved till today. Wars also returned in this period against the Persians.

The number of population declined in the limestone mass at the beginning of the eighth century, and the limestone massif became almost empty in the tenth century, and it was this abandonment that allowed the preservation of the classical villages and their neighboring agricultural divisions.

They registration area include 8 parks:

  • The first archaeological park in Simeon mountain- Aleppo, which contains (village and castle of Der Simeon, Rafadeh, Sit al-Rum, Qatourah and al-Sheikh Barakat).
  • The second archaeological park in Simeon mountain- Aleppo (Batouta, Sinkhar and Sheikh Sulaiman).
  • The third archaeological park in Simeon mountain- Aleppo (Brad, Kfr Nabo, Burj Haidar, Kalota and Khrab Shams).
  • The fourth archaeological park in al-Westani mountain- Idlib (Kfr Aqarib, Fassoq and Kherbet Bnassra).
  • The fifth archaeological park in Jabal al-Zawia Idlib (Dellozah, al-Bara, Wadi Martahun, Kherbet Majlia, Kherbet Rabeiaa, Kherbet Hass, Besslla, Serjella).
  • The sixth archaeological park in Jabal al-Zawia -M’arret al-Nu’man (Ruweha and Jaradeh). • The seventh archaeological park in Barisha-Idlib (Bqirha, Kherbet al-Khatib, Der Qitta and Derwnah).
  • The eighth archaeological park in Jabal Aʻlā -Idlib, Harem region (Qalb Lozeh and Qarqabezah).

Serjella_ Jabal al-Zawia_ Idlib countryside 

Qalb Loza church_Jabal al-Aala_Idlib countryside

8

Jarada Tower _ Jabal al-Zawia_ Idlib countryside 

9

Mar Maron Tomb_Brad_ church – Jabal Samaan – Aleppo countryside 

Outstanding Universal Value

Located in a vast Limestone Massif, in the northwest of Syria, some forty ancient villages provide a coherent and exceptionally broad insight into rural and village lifestyles in late Antiquity and the Byzantine Period. Abandoned in the 8th-10th centuries, they still retain a large part of their original monuments and buildings, in a remarkable state of preservation: dwellings, pagan temples, churches and Christian sanctuaries, funerary monuments, bathhouses, public buildings, buildings with economic or artisanal purposes, etc. It is also an exceptional illustration of the development of Christianity in the East, in village communities. Grouped in eight archaeological parks, the ensemble forms a series of unique and exceptional relict cultural landscapes.

Registration Criterions to the UNESCO WHL (2011)

Criterion (iii): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the lifestyles and cultural traditions of the rural civilizations that developed in the Middle East, in the context of a Mediterranean climate in mid-altitude limestone mountains from the 1st to the 7th centuries.Criterion (iv): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the architecture of the rural house and civilian and religious community buildings at the end of the Classical era and in the Byzantine Period. Their association in villages and places of worship forms relict landscapes characteristic of the transition between the ancient pagan world and Byzantine Christianity.Criterion (v): The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide an eminent example of a sustainable rural settlement from the 1st to the 7th centuries, based on the careful use of the soil, water and limestone, and the mastery of production of valuable agricultural crops. The economic functionality of the habitat, hydraulic engineering, low protective walls and the Roman agricultural plot plan inscribed on the relict landscapes are testimony to this.

Integrity

The architectural integrity is expressed adequately. The sites are sufficiently extensive; they encompass a large number of villages, places of worship, and monumental and archaeological testimonies to adequately express the Outstanding Universal Value. The number and quality of the relict landscapes are also adequate and essential to the expression of this value. Nonetheless, the recent trend of an agricultural re-settlement of the Limestone Massif could affect the built integrity of certain villages and the associated landscapes.

Authenticity

As a result of the absence of human occupation for a thousand years, the absence of any re-use of the stones and the absence of restoration/reconstruction campaigns in the 20th century, the property and its landscapes have retained a very high degree of authenticity. However, recent rural relocation could affect the conditions of authenticity, although replanting respectful of the ancient agricultural plot plan should contribute to revitalizing the landscape without affecting its authenticity.

Arch. Lina Kutiefan

References:

عدد الزوار 234 

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