February 27th, 2009 – by: Deats
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Jameel, Ahmed, Anas, Mouthana, Mohamed (Syria), Jan (Germany), Allen (Serbia), Dmitri and Anastasia (Russia)
Jameel's major had been Archaeology, so he was a wealth of knowledge on the ruins, which only cost us 10SYP ($0.20) to enter. This bargain price was due to us having a fake ISIC student card that we had bought in Bangkok, whilst those without a card had to pay 15 times the amount! It was quite funny that i went to use the toilet here and had to pay the same amount as it had cost for a ticket, which shows how cheap the ticket was - or how expensive the toilet was ;)
The Basilica has a fascinating past and a funny story of how it came to be, centred around a crazy Christian called Simeon Stylites.
Simeon wasn't like your ordinary religious fanatic, he was far more dedicated - or some would argue insane. He lived in a monastery during his early years, but his fellow monks asked him to leave as he was becoming too fanatical. Thus he isolated himself from his colleagues by climbing to the top of a hill and chaining himself there. Still not content, in 423AD he built a pillar 3m high and sat atop this, as a way of distancing himself from other humans, who he had a great disdain for. This only made him more of a cult figure though, and pilgrims began to travel from far and wide to see the pious man who was living atop a pillar. Simeon remained above the ground for a staggering 36 years, with his final pillar reaching a vertigo inducing 18m!
After Simeon died, a Byzantine Emperor in search of securing support amongst Christians in the region built the Basilica in memory of Simeon, who had amassed a large following. Later the Basilica would be turned into a Fortress, but surprisingly the ruins have remained in relatively good condition.
Jameel showed us around each of the buildings, including the main chapel, living quarters, tombs and water cisterns - although these were possibly underground hide outs.
We spent the best part of two hours at the site, before piling into the back of a passing cattle truck, which gave us a lift a few kilometers down the road to Qatoura. Here we looked at some ancient carved bas reliefs in the rocks and then went to the caretakers house for a cup of tea. It was already dark by the time that we left, but thankfully we managed to flag a minivan down and bargained for him to take us back to Aleppo for $1 each.