Deir Mar Musa

Penny Young reviews the painstaking recreation of an ancient Syrian monastery.

An ancient monastery in the desert in central Syria, which lay in ruins through the last century, looks set to become one of the country’s top attractions. Deir Mar Musa dates back at least 1,500 years. It owes its recent revival to the determination of an Italian Jesuit. Although it is not yet in the travel guides, thousands of people are already beating a path to the door of this stunning late antique desert monastery which boasts the only surviving medieval fresco cycles in Syria.

Situated in the Qalamoun Mountains on the edge of a cliff over a wadi, the Syrian Catholic monastery of Mar Musa or St Moses the Abyssinian is thought to have started life as a Roman watchtower. The area was first inhabited by prehistoric hunters and shepherds attracted by its natural cisterns and pastures for herding goats. It commands a spectacular view over the desert and the routes to the cities of Damascus, Homs and Palmyra, the city of Queen Zenobia which lies just 150 kilometres to the east – a perfect place for a watchtower.

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