Syria has always been famous for its marvelous geographical and archaeological sites which spread across the country telling wonderful stories from its deep-rooted history. One such site is al-Nadara valley in Homs province which has great geographical, historical, and archeological significance.
Geographical Significance :
Its geographical location has endowed it with a great importance as it extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the inland separating Akkar Mountains from the southern part of Lattakia Mountains at the center of a geographical site known as Homs-Tripoli Gap.
The Gap is considered a significant juncture binding the Mediterranean Sea with the inland of the Levant, located at a low altitude where Lattakia Mountains end, with a number of hills surrounded by several valleys extending in different directions at the center of the Gap which has geographical, military, and commercial importance.
The significance of Homs-Tripoli Gap comes from the fact that it facilitates the movement in two directions between the coast and the inland and between the north and the south.
Many forts and towers were built there in the past to monitor the movement of armies which used to pass through the Gap coming from the sea.
The valley embraces about 40 villages divided three provinces, namely Homs, Hama, and Tartous, while administratively it is considered as a part of Homs.
In the second half of the 13th century B.C. the Egyptian and Aramaic armies gathered in the valley near Deir Mar Georgios al-Humaira (Saint George Monastery) to battle the Hittites.
In 1516, the Ottomans entered the area and they attached al-Nadara valley, which was previously known as Sandzak “district” of al-Husn, to the district of Tripoli.
The valley also witnessed the age of the anti-Turkification Arab Renaissance, the revolutions against the French mandate, and the realization of Syria’s independence.
“The valley played a key role in history as many of the Syrian national figures were born in it, including martyr Joul Jammal and Dr. Elias Obeaid. It also hosts a number of the magnificent archeological and religious monuments in Syria,” one of the valleys residents, journalist Dina Abdullah, says.
-Deir Mar Georgios al-Humaira or Saint George Monastery
Looking at the scene binding Saint George Monastery with Krak des Chevaliers behind it, one can realize the sanctity and splendor of history of this area. The monastery was built in the town of Meshtaye, a village belonging to Homs province, just a few kilometers north of Krak des Chevaliers.
The monastery is named after Saint George of Lydda, and its Arabic name (Mar Georgios al-Humaira) either refers to the finding of one of his body parts in the area after he was tortured and executed by pagans, or refers to the nearby archeological site al-Humaira.
It is said that the monastery was built over remains of an ancient statue of the god “Homerus” by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I sometime in the 6th century AD.
The monastery occupies a 6,000 m² of land and was built entirely from Byzantine-styled stone. The modern church was rebuilt in 1857. Most of the older monastery’s relics are preserved and displayed there.
Its entrance features a triple arch and two central supporting columns of Byzantine origin. A large stone with religious carvings can be found in the monastery’s southern gate.
The wooden iconostases found inside the church are decorated with impressive carvings and are magnificent pieces of art. The monastery’s gold-plated icons depict various scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.
Beneath the monastery’s main courtyard there is an older 13th century chapel with a smaller iconostasis which is over 300 years old. Its icons depict scenes from the life of Saint George. At this lower level there is also an entrance to what is believed to be the original 6th century monastery and several large amphorae.
The Saint George Monastery also displays many other ancient relics like crosses, writings, books, carvings, goblets, and other artifacts.
The monastery is busiest during pilgrimages at the feast of Saint George (May 6th) and the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross on (September 14th).
-Krak des Chevaliers:
Krak des Chevaliers is one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The site was first inhabited in the 11th century. In 1142 it was given by Raymond II, Count of Tripoli, to the Knights Hospitaller. It remained in their possession until it fell in 1271. It became known as Crac de l’Ospital; the name Krak des Chevaliers was coined in the 19th century.
The Hospitallers began rebuilding the castle in the 1140s and were finished by 1170 when an earthquake damaged the castle. The order controlled a number of castles along the border of the County of Tripoli, a state founded after the First Crusade.
Krak des Chevaliers was amongst the most important castles at the time and acted as a center of administration as well as a military base. After a second phase of building was undertaken in the 13th century, Krak des Chevaliers became a concentric castle. This phase created the outer wall and gave the castle its current appearance. The first half of the century has been described as Krak des Chevaliers’ “golden age.” At its peak, Krak des Chevaliers housed a garrison of around 2,000. Such a large garrison allowed the Hospitallers to extract tribute from a wide area.
From the 1250s the fortunes of the Knights Hospitaller took a turn for the worse and in 1271 Mamluk Sultan Baibars captured Krak des Chevaliers after a siege lasting 36 days, supposedly by way of a forged letter purportedly from the Hospitallers’ Grand Master that caused the Knights to surrender.
Renewed interest in Crusader castles in the 19th century led to the investigation of Krak des Chevaliers, and architectural plans were drawn up. In the late 19th or early 20th century a settlement had been created within the castle, causing damage to its structure. The 500 inhabitants were relocated in 1933 and the castle was given over to the French state, which carried out a program of clearing and restoration. When Syria declared independence in 1946, the Syrian state assumed control of the site.
Today, a village called al-Husn exists around the castle and has a population of nearly 9,000. Krak des Chevaliers is located approximately 40 kilometers (25 mi) west of the city of Homs, close to the borders with Lebanon, and is administratively part of Homs. Since 2006, the castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The castle nowadays is an important tourist site that plays a key role in enriching tourism in Syria.
The spring, located 3 km to the west of Saint George Monastery, is one of the most important landmarks in Zweitina town because of its religious significance.
Al-Fawwar is basically a small grotto which is entered by going down a few steps where water is released from a few openings. The spring is known for flowing sporadically at random intervals; the spring might not flow in days or even months.
Loud sounds emitted from the underground would usually signal that the spring will flow and are heard minutes before it starts flowing. The water would usually keep on flowing for a few hours, sometimes a day or two, and the water would spread to smaller springs.
This phenomenon is explainable though; the water at the opening traps the air and under high pressure the air pushes the water and causes this random strong. People regard this event as a sign of good luck and are always happy when it happens.
The spring is surrounded with many restaurants, cafeterias, and hotels. Thousands visit the al-Fawwar spring every year, mainly tourists and visitors to the monastery.
The valley also contains other important charming archeological sites such as al-Durra Grotto which is one of the nature’s silent wonders, and al-Shahhara Church.
Homs Tourism Department Director-General Ali Hussein says “al-Nadara valley has rich tourist, natural, and archeological potential, with a wealth of archeological sites and the tourist facilities located in the villages of the valley, along with the forests and mountains which make it a significant tourist destination.”
“Due to the tourist importance of the valley, and after the Syrian Army restored security and peace to it and expelled terrorists from the area, the Ministry of Tourism in cooperation with Homs Governorate have held a cultural and entertainment festival there to affirm that life has returned to al-Nadara Valley and to showcase its splendor and tourist significance,” al-Hussein adds.