modern village located in the Qalamun Mountains, 60 km (37 mi.) north of Damascus, Syria, and 110 km (68 mi.) south of Homs. The village is 1,650 m above sea level, at the bottom of a valley bordered on three sides by cliffs. If the evidence provided by the inscriptions found by W. H. Waddington and Heinrich Moritz (inscriptions 2563–2565) in the nearby caves is reliable, the site has been occupied since the Roman period; two of the inscriptions give dates of 107 and 167 CE. The existence of the site is, in any case, attested by George of Cyprus (Gelzer, 1890, p. 188, n. 993) as Magloulon. It was then a part of Lebanese Phoenicia. The Arab historian Yaqut mentions Iklim as one of the many villages that are a part of Ma῾lula.

The village houses are arranged on the slopes of the valley like the tiers of seating in an immense amphitheater. Behind the summit of the cliff lies the Mar Sarkis Church and, since 1988, a modern hotel, from which there is a magnificent panoramic view. Three quarters of the village's inhabitants are Christians—Greek Orthodox or Greek Catholic; the remaining quarter are Sunni Muslims. Ma῾lula is cited as the seat of a seventeenth-century Melchite bishopric, but in 1724 it was reunited with Said Naya. [See Said Naya.] It is perhaps its isolation (although it is not far from Damascus it is in the mountains) that has enabled Ma῾lula to maintain its predominantly Christian population, unusual in Syria. This isolation did not, however, completely protect it from the hazards of politics. The city was sacked in 1850 by Turkish troops under Mustafa Pasha, whose men were pursuing the survivors of the revolt of the emir of Baalbek who had come to Ma῾lula seeking refuge; the village was attacked and besieged again in 1860 and 1925. [See Baalbek.]

Nevertheless, in many respects the village remains a living conservatory of the most ancient traditions of Syrian civilization. To begin with, the inhabitants continue to speak a Western Aramaic dialect related to Judeo- and Syro-Palestinian Aramaic. It is therefore not injudicious to surmise that it represents the last example in Syria today of the language spoken in Syria-Palestine in the time of Jesus. [See Aramaic Language and Literature.] In comparison, the Aramaic spoken in the villages of the Jezireh and the Ṭur ῾Abdin is much further removed, notably in the area of morphology. Ma῾lula also retains in use many churches dating to the most ancient Christian past. In the Church of St. Elie, a mosaic from the fourth century has been uncovered. The best-known monasteries in Ma῾lula are of Mar Sarkis (St. Serge, whose cult was very widespread in Syria) and St. Takla. The Church of Mar Sarkis was probably constructed on the ruins of a pagan temple; it is a small basilica with columns and a central nave flanked by two aisles. Even though basilicas with cupolas do not appear before the fifth century, the monks of the monastery propose a date for the church before the Council of Nicaea (325 CE); it was then that the altar tables found in pits in the central apse and the northern side chapel were outlawed—because their origin was believed to be pagan. [See Basilicas; Churches.] Carbon-14 analysis dates certain wooden elements from the wall supports of the central nave to the fourth century. None of these arguments is entirely convincing. Carbon-14 technology, in particular, does not permit such precise dating. In the absence of an executed scientific study, it is impossible to date this church with certainty. It is, however, entirely possible that its most ancient parts belong to the fourth or fifth century, as tradition holds. Since 1732 the monastery and church have belonged to the Basilien Salvatorien order and the Greek Catholic community.


  • Gelzer, Heinrich. Georgius of Cyprus: Descriptio orbis romani. Leipzig, 1890.
  • Le Bas, Philippe, and W. H. Waddington. Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Paris, 1870.
  • Moritz, Heinrich. Die Zunamen bei den Historikern und Chronisten. 2 vols. Landshut, 1897–1898.
  • Reich, Sigismund S. “Histoire de Ma῾lula: Raisons pour la conservation et la disparition de cet idiome.” In Reich's Études sur les villages araméens de l'anti-Liban. Documents d'Études Orientales de l'Institut Français de Damas, 7. Damascus, 1937.

Georges Tate

Translated from French by Melissa Kaprelian