Not so Dead Cities of Syria

Imagine having a UNESCO Heritage site all to yourself? This is what I found late in the day when I got a ride out to see Al Basa and Sejilla from Hama, Syria. The two sites aren’t officially recognized by UNESCO but are both protected by the Syrian Antiquity law and listed under the category of archaeological sites and registered by the Syrian Minister of Culture.   It’s getting late in the day 4:30 and the overseer at Serjilla is waiting in his car as this lone visitor shows up. The place closes at 5pm and I’m given the look which tells me to pretty much get a move on with a smile. So there’s about 10 acres of area (lots to cover and “enjoy”) and time is ticking. I’m sure some backish (tip or bribe) will extend my welcome but it’s something I don’t like to do.

The one thing great thing to my timing is that I’m able to see the area by myself and the quality late afternoon light will hopefully give me great shots. I’ll need these later since it will allow me to examine what I only had time to take a picture of.

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Beginning in the 4th Century, this area once housed a wealthy group of Christians settlers. Things like the bath houses and fertile land, and it’s closeness to trade centers like Apamea and Antioch all together can only conclude that this was a village of well to do citizens. The soil is so fertile that it presently is the site of  many working fruit orchards and oil groves.

The houses, baths, temples, sarcophagi (tombs) and churches they are housed in can still be identified and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to picture what this village used to look like when it was occupied many centuries ago. The town was at a crossroads between the trade destinations of Antioch and Apamea and continued to be inhabited by the same Christians despite being conquered by the Crusaders in 1098 and later the Arabs in 1123. An earthquake is what caused this village to be abandoned in the late 12th century. Many archways, walls, and whole rooms are still fully intact which is amazing. It’s not too hard to envision what the village must have looked like centuries ago.

It’s a wonder why it’s not recognized by UNESCO. This is a big reason to check out and support sites that are not on the list. It’s very important to treat them with care and respect they deserve and allow them to be open to others in the future.  This should go unsaid but please don’t climb up or take away things that need to stay there. Pictures should be the only souvenir you take back with you as tempting as it may be to stick one little piece of rock in your pocket.

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