Thursday, June 30, 2005

Look Mom...I Can Smoke!!

In case someone’s wondering; THAT’S NOT ME!!
I got this photo from the internet. it was taken by a tourist visiting Syria...
Anyway, I find it very funny...the lighter and the “montage” are classic (I am not sure if this is a montage or two guys wearing the same shirt?!!)

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Cathedral of St. Simeon Stylites

The most beautiful and significant monument to religious building between Roman period of the 2nd century and northern European Christian masterpieces of the 11th century AD. At the time it was completed in 473 AD, it was considered the largest Cathedral in the world.

Situated on a hill top overlooking the town of Deir Samaan in the 'Afrin Valley, 60 km north west of Aleppo.
Following the death of the Syrian Hermit Saint Simeon (Sam'an) the Stylite in 459, Emperor Zenon ordered that a cathedral be built where the saint used to pray.

The layout was original, centering on the famous column from which St. Simeon used to preach. Four basilicas, arranged in the shape of a Greek cross (it was also called the four-basilica church), opened into an octagon covered by a dome, in the center of which stood the holy column.

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.

The remaining stump of what is reported to be the very pillar that supported the saint for all those years, greatly reduced today by the numerous pilgrims who have taken pieces away as holy relics.

More Pictures here

36 Years On A Pillar

St. Simeon Stylites (388 - 459):
Born at Sisan in northern Syria in 388 AD. He is called stylite after the Greek word stylos meaning pillar.

As a shepherd boy, he was converted by the first sermon he ever heard. The priest spoke on the text, "Blessed are the pure in heart". On asking how best to become pure in heart and so see God, Simeon was told that joining a monastery was good, and he at once became a monk at the age of 16. He said he repeatedly heard a voice telling him to "dig ever deeper".

After ten years he obtained permission from his superiors to leave the monastery and become a hermit. He was called, he said, to give up movement. He built himself a round enclosure and shackled his leg to a chain fastened to a pole in the middle of it so that he could not leave. The bishop of Antioch ordered him to remove the chain, and Simeon immediately complied. But crowds had begun to come in ever-increasing numbers to ask for his prayers.

It was they who first made Simeon think of living higher up, out of their reach. He built a platform three metres high, to prevent people from grabbing him while he was at prayer. A bit of leather snipped from his garment was a valuable relic during his lifetime, so we can imagine his predicament. Besides, the whole point of his immobility was, in Simeon's mind, not only stability but also verticality. He was choosing Heaven, denying himself wandering, distraction, the horizontal. He built himself successive pillars, a six-meter one, an eleven-meter one, and finally a stylos 20 meters high and nearly 2 meters in diameter.

He ate as little as possible, and did his utmost never to sit or lie down: he would tie himself to a pole fixed to the top of his pillar so as to sleep upright, or, on laxer occasions, he would sleep leaning on the balustrade that also prevented him from blowing off his perch during storms. He had no roof, and no walls apart from the open balustrade; a leather garment, long hair, and a beard were all he had for protection against the elements. Modern people, masters of sewerage as we have become, shudder at the thought of what happened to his admittedly meagre excrement.

He prayed all night, bowing frequently and low (this being his only exercise): one witness stopped counting after his 1,244th bow. He slept very briefly towards dawn, and was ready to greet the crowds that thronged around him every day. Pilgrims came to Antioch in Syria from distant places--we hear of Arabs, Persians, Armenians, Spanish, British, French--and then walked a short distance into the country to where the saint's pillar stood. They would beg for his prayers, listen twice a day to his gentle, practical and briefly expressed thoughts, ask him to settle disputes, and pray for miracles that frequently occurred. Most of the time, however, the saint stood in silent prayer.

Simeon's fame spread throughout the Empire. The Emperor Theodosius and the Empress Eudocia greatly respected the saint and listened to his counsels, while the Emperor Leo paid respectful attention to a letter he sent in favor of the Council of Chalcedon. Once when Simeon was ill Theodosius sent three bishops to beg him to descend and allow himself to be attended by physicians, but Simeon preferred to leave his cure in the hands of God, and before long he recovered.

By the end of his life, Simeon was embodying his ideal of purity of heart with the unlettered shepherd's naïveté that never left him: he had reduced his distance from God in the most concrete manner he could imagine; he was like a flame burning atop a candle. He had "dug deeper" and ended up high, in this extraordinary place. Having left human society behind, he had made himself available to it unceasingly.

After spending 36 years on his pillar, Simeon died on 2 September 459. A contest arose between Antioch and Constantinople for the possession of Simeon's remains. The preference was given to Antioch, and the greater part of his relics were left there as a protection to the unwalled city.

St. Simeon inspired many imitators. After his death, Stylitism (living the life of a recluse on a pillar top in order to dedicate yourself completely to God) became a popular movement from the fifth to seventh centuries and again in the tenth and eleventh throughout the Byzantine Levant and near Aleppo, including St. Daniel the Stylite (also from Syria), St. Alypius and St. Simeon Stylites the Younger.

The ruins of the vast edifice erected in his honour and known in Arabic as the Qal’at Simân (the mansion of Simeon) can still be seen. (See next post)

You can read the story of Simeon, the first Stylite, here:

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Citadel Defense Strategies

The entrance bridge and the corridors inside

The main doors were built to the right, making them harder to ram

The designers of the Citadel of Aleppo did everything to make the fortification impossible to invade. They used several ingenious defense strategies that made it one of the hardest forts to conquer in the region.

Built atop a 50 m high hill for its natural defense advantages, the Citadel features a deep moat encircling the hill and a ring of walls and towers atop the hill. A steep bridge leads across the moat from an entrance tower on the lower side to the entrance fortifications above.

As you approach the entrance, the main doors are on the right as you enter, which makes it more difficult to ram them.
Once inside, a complex of defense mode was developed in the sequence of movement into the Citadel, as perpetrators would have to penetrate five great iron-plated doors - each set at a corner of the passageway - could be closed to trap invaders, and change direction 6 times through a series of 90 degree abrupt turns under a hail of arrows, fire and boiling oil being poured through the slit openings on the upper floors.
Moreover, there is almost no light inside. There are only a few holes in the ceiling through which rays of sunlight shed some light in the darkness of the corridor.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Before & After

The Citadel of Aleppo (1920's & 2005)

Should i go back to my Before template, or you like the After one more?

The Syrian Bride / La Fiancée Syrienne

I heard about this movie from a friend of mine in Montréal who saw it on the weekend (it has been running there for weeks, and apparently Montréalers loved it).
The screenwriter and all the actors are Arabs, and the language of the movie is Arabic. The Director, however, is an Israeli Jew, so I am not expecting it to be playing in a Syrian theatre near you.
Since I haven’t seen this movie, I am not sure what to make of it. It might be just another Israeli propaganda movie, or may be not?!
Anyway, if anyone saw it, please enlighten us!!

Starring: Hiam Abbass, Makram Khoury, Clara Khoury, Ashraf Barhoum…
Directed by: Eran Riklis
Run time: 98 min.
Genre: Drama

- Montreal World Film Festival 2004: Grand Prix of the Americas, People's Choice Award, Fripresci Prize, Ecumenical Prize
- Locarno 2004:Public Choise Award
- Gent 2004: Best Script Award, Public Award
- Auxerre 2004 : Grand Prix, Best Original Score
- Bastia 2004: Best Actor, Best Script Award, Jury Award
- Cinematographic meetings of Cannes: Public Award, Best Soundtrack Award

The Syrian Bride is an emotional, authentic and often humorous drama defying all borders, whether physical or mental.
In Golan Heights, originally Syrian land but Israeli-occupied since 1967, Mona’s arranged marriage to a Syrian TV star she’s never met is the catalyst for a conflict-ridden day for her family and numerous others across both borders.
Mona's wedding day is the saddest day of her life…
Syrians at heart, yet separated from their homeland, the Druze villagers are both pleased to see Mona gain citizenship to Syria through her marriage, yet painfully aware that once she crosses the border, she can never again return to her close-knit family. In a tale of tensions between tradition, family dynamics and personal fulfillment, each member of Mona’s family has his or her own story of love, desire, and duty, all necessarily interwoven with the political circumstances surrounding their land.

More Info:

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Umayyad Mosque (the Grand Mosque) of Aleppo

The Grand Mosque with the Citadel in the back
(more pictures here)
Located in the old city (area D4), very close to the citadel of Aleppo.

The site of the Great Mosque is the former Agora from the Hellenistic period, which later became the garden for the Cathedral of St. Helena, during the Christian era.

It was built by the Umayyad Caliph al Walid, who had earlier founded the Great Mosque in Damascus. It was completed in 717 by his successor Caliph Suleiman. Nur al Din later rebuilt it in 1169 after a great fire and the Mamelukes made further alterations. This mosque has an enormous 45-meter minaret, which is completely detached from it, built by the Seljuks in 1070.

Through the main entrance, a large court can be seen with pillared arcades, which are substitutions for the original ones in the Damascus mosque. Another series of arches can be found in the façade of the prayer hall, which were built by the Mamelukes. The façade is well decorated with intricately cut and various colored stones. A composition of white marble and inlaid basalt can be seen on the main door. As for the minbar, which is the pulpit on which the Sheikh stands when preaching, it is very beautifully carved out of wood and probably dates back to the 15th century.

Inside the prayer hall, to the left of the mihrab is a finely tiled chamber that is said to hold the head of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

More Info:

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Baron Hotel

Located on Baron Street (Area 5C), close to the post office and the National Museum. Up until the 70's, The Baron Street itself was considered Aleppo’s champs-elysee, but it has been in constant decay ever since.

Back in 1909, when the Orient Express Railway was being pushed through from Constantinople to Baghdad, Aleppo--then an outpost of the Ottoman Turkish Empire--became a railhead. Two farsighted Armenian brothers from the Mazloumian family, realizing that the city would become an important stopover for travelers en route to both Damascus and Baghdad, took the opportunity to establish a European-style hotel on the outskirts of town in ‘gardens considered unsafe to venture to after dark’. The hotel, called The Baron, was the first luxury class hotel in the Middle East, boasting central heating (Aleppo can be really cold in winter), sweeping stairways, elaborate chandeliers and "modern plumbing" in European bathrooms.

As a consequence, The Baron became the place to stay, and its guest book (now carefully kept in a locked safe, but available for perusal on request) lists the names of its famous visitors (see list below).
The Baron's best-known guest remains T.E. Lawrence "of Arabia", who noted in his monumental Seven Pillars of Wisdom that the distinguished hotel was becoming "almost a second home". In fact the hotel has good reason to remember Lawrence, who, on one occasion, left in such a hurry that he neglected to pay his bill. The bill in question remains on display in a glass cabinet in the Baron's drawing room--no doubt the management, now in the hands of the founders' grandsons; reckon that Lawrence's outstanding account has been paid many times over in terms of publicity value!

Today The Baron is but a pale shadow of its former self, the curtains and carpets faded, the once state-of-the-art plumbing now overly grandiose, clanking and antiquated, yet the establishment retains more color and atmosphere than anywhere else in town.

Guests List:
- T.E. Lawrence "of Arabia": stayed here regularly 1911-1914 when working as an archaeologist in nearby Carchemish.
- US President Theodore Roosevelt
- Aviator Charles Lindbergh
- Kemal Attaturk (founder of Turkey)
- Lady Louis Mountbatten
- Author Agatha Christie and her archaeologist husband Sir Max Mallowan: she wrote the first part of Murder on the Orient Express here.
- Julie Christie
- The boxer Gene Tunney
- Zsa Zsa Gabor
- The Ceaucescus
- King Gustav & Queen Louise of Sweden
- King Faysal I of Iraq
- Queen Ingrid of Denmark
- General Montgomery
- Yuri Gagarin
- Charles de Gaulle (he had a hair cut at the barber shop in front of the Hotel)
- John Rockfeller
- Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan
- Marechal Tito
- Gamal Abdel Nasser
- Charles Aznavour

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Map of Aleppo

1-Aleppo’s Citadel and the old city surrounding it.
2-Al-Jedaideh and Tellal districts: The old downtown. Some of the old houses in these districts have recently been renovated and converted into restaurants and hotels. A must see to anyone interested in Aleppo’s old architecture.
3-Azizieh district: The current downtown. Residential and commercial center of Aleppo.
4-Al-Hadika Al-Amma (the general park): Aleppines call it also Al-Mashtal. It used to be one of the largest parks in the Middle East.
5-"Baghdad" train station: built by the French. Mentioned in Agatha Christie’s “Murder in the Orient Express”.
6-Souleymanyeh district.
7-The University of Aleppo.
8-Sabil district.
9-Hanano district.
10-Seif Al-Doleh district.
11-Maysaloun district.
12-Kouwaik River: Originates from Turkey. Several Irrigation and Dam projects, built by the Turks, have reduced it into a small stream of water.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Villa Rose

This is one of the most beautiful and unique buildings in Aleppo.

It is located in Azizieh district (Aleppo’s downtown), near the real estate bank and the newly opened Bank of Syria and Overseas.

Its name, Villa Rose, comes from the unique pink (rose) stones used to construct it.
It was built by the French during their mandate, to be used as a hospital. It was then transformed into a private residence for wealthy Aleppine families, who have exchanged its ownership many times, for very large sums of money.

It has recently been designated as a historical site by the ministry of tourism, which will protect it from being demolished and help preserving it for years to come.