• Keywords: Syria, Cultural Landscapes, Ancient villages, Dead villages, Forgotten villages, Cyrrhus, Bab Al-Hawa, Ain Dara temple, Sugane village, Kimar, Barad, Kafr Nabo settlement, Sheikh, Barjaka, Burj Suleiman, Mushabbak Basilica, Sinhar, Kafr, Kira, Surqanya village, Fafertin Church, Kharab, Kalota,

1. OFFICIAL CLASSIFICATIONS AND CATEGORIES

1.1 National and International Classification Lists

The Ancient villages of Northern Syria are in the World Heritage List of UNESCO as a Cultural Landscape, with date of inscription: 2011, criteria: (iii)(iv)(v), and ref: 1348.

  • World heritage list of UNESCO

1.2. Cultural Landscape Category/Tipology

Organically evolved landscapes
Relict (or fossil) landscape

1.3. Description and Justification by Med-O-Med

Description

The site “Ancient Cities of Northern Syria” is classified as a Cultural Landscape by UNESCO (UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Article 1, 1972, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2008) because of its cultural properties, scattered in a vast territory of great natural values. The Ancient Cities, also called Dead or Forgotten Cities are a group of 700 abandoned settlements in northwest Syria between Aleppo and Idlib. Around 40 villages grouped in eight archaeological parks situated in north-western Syria provide an insight into rural life in Late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period. Most villages which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, became abandoned between the 8th and 10th centuries. The settlements feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc. Important dead cities include the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, Serjilla and al Bara. The relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity. Vestiges illustrating hydraulic techniques, protective walls and Roman agricultural plot plans furthermore offer testimony to the inhabitants’ mastery of agricultural production. The Dead Cities are situated in an elevated area of limestone known as Limestone Massif. These ancient settlements cover an area 20–40 km (12–25 mi) wide and some 140 km (87 mi) long. The Massif includes three groups of highlands: the first is the northern group of Mount Simeon and Mount Kurd, the second middle group is the group of Harim Mountains, the third southern group is the group of Zawiya Mountain.

2. NAME / LOCATION / ACCESSIBILITY

  • Current denomination Ancient cities, Dead cities, Forgotten cities.
  • Current denomination Ancient cities, Dead cities, Forgotten cities.
  • Original denomination Ancient cities, Dead cities (Arabic: المدن الميتة‎) or Forgotten cities (Arabic: المدن المنسية‎)
  • Popular denomination Ancient cities, Dead cities (Arabic: المدن الميتة‎) or Forgotten cities (Arabic: المدن المنسية‎)
  • Address: 40 villages grouped in eight parks situated in north-western Syria.
  • Geographical coordinates: N36 20 3 E36 50 39
  • Area, boundaries and surroundings: The Dead Cities are situated in the Limestone Massif. These ancient settlements cover an area 20–40 km wide and some 140 km long. The UNESCO Property covers 12,290 ha.
  • Access and transport facilities: Recently, most sites became easily accessible since many roads have been asphalted. There is a guidebook with a detailed map that is extremely useful for finding the lesser known sites.
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Ancient vilages of Northern Syria (SYRIAN)

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Ancient vilages of Northern Syria (SYRIAN) 36.334167, 36.844167 Ancient vilages of Northern Syria (SYRIAN) (Directions)

3. LEGAL ISSUES

Property regime
  • Public
  • Owner: Syrian Government.
  • Body responsible for the maintenance: Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).
  • Legal protection: The dynamic of the legal protection is heading in the right direction, notably following the decrees creating the parks. It must be reinforced by a revision of the Antiquities Law to improve the protection of the relict cultural landscapes.

4. HISTORY

Some 40 villages grouped in eight parks situated in north-western Syria provide remarkable testimony to rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period. Abandoned in the 8th to 10th centuries, the villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc. The relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity. Vestiges illustrating hydraulic techniques, protective walls and Roman agricultural plot plans furthermore offer testimony to the inhabitants’ mastery of agricultural production. After the mid-6th century, the area gradually fell into decline due to food shortages and epidemics. From the 10th century on it became totally deserted. As it has been abandoned for nearly one thousand years since its occupation in ancient times, it has been called the region of “dead cities”.

5. GENERAL DESCRIPTION

5.1. Natural heritage

  • Heritage: Archaeological
  • Geography: High Mountain
  • Site topography: Natural
  • Climate and environmental conditions: General overview of the country: The climate of the coastal plain is Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Rainfall increases with altitude in the coastal mountain ranges, and snow is common in winter. In the dry steppe and open desert country east of the mountains, a marked continental climate prevails, with high summer temperatures and relatively cold winters, with many nights of frost. Over most of this region, which covers approximately 60% of the country, the average annual rainfall is less than 250 mm. In spring and autumn, the hot and dusty "khamsin" wind, blowing from the east and southeast, may cause temperatures to rise as high as 43-49°C. Damascus, situated east of the coastal mountain ranges, has a mean annual rainfall of 225 mm and average temperatures ranging from 7°C in January to 27°C in July.
  • Geological and Geographical characteristics: The Dead Cities are situated in an elevated area of limestone known as Limestone Massif. These ancient settlements cover an area 20–40 km (12–25 mi) wide and some 140 km (87 mi) long. The Massif includes three groups of highlands: the first is the northern group of Mount Simeon and Mount Kurd, the second middle group is the group of Harim Mountains, the third southern group is the group of Zawiya Mountain.
Vegetation:

General overview of the country: The natural vegetation comprises Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian and Saharo- Sindian elements. However, virtually all natural vegetation has long since been altered and degraded by human activity. The surviving vegetation includes oak maquis on the narrow coastal plain and foothills, remnant coniferous forests on the slopes of the Jabal alNusayriyah and along the Anti-Lebanon range, Irano-Turanian steppe on the central and eastern plains, and subalpine and alpine communities above 2,000 m in the southern mountains. Syria’s major landscapes and dominant vegetation types have recently been summarized by IUCN (1992) and Evans (1994).

Agricultural issues or other traditional productions and their effect on the landscape:
General overview of the country: Agriculture has traditionally been the mainstay of the economy. Much of the agriculture is concentrated in the ancient "Fertile Crescent" which extends in an arc from the inner rim of the coastal mountains, through northern Syria and down the Euphrates Valley into Iraq. The main crops are cotton, wheat, barley, rice, olives, millet, sugar-beet and tobacco. The rearing of livestock, particularly sheep and goats, remains important in the semi-desert areas where irrigation water is scarce. The huge Asad Dam on the Euphrates River, begun in 1968 and finally inaugurated in 1978, has permitted a major expansion in the area of arable land in central Syria, and further dam projects and irrigation schemes, notably on the Yarmuk River, are planned or under way. Syria's industrial sector was traditionally based on the cotton industry, but in recent years phosphate mining and manufacturing have become more important. Since 1974, oil has been Syria's most important source of export revenue. The country is divided into 14 governorates, with Damascus.
Summary of Landscapes values and characteristics:

The Ancient villages of Northern Syria are the remains of rural societies from late Antiquity and early Christianity. Basilicas, pagan temples, bathouses, residential areas, pilgrims dwellings, inns, Roman tombs and temples are found among the ruins. The area is located in the Limestone Massif, close to Turkey. It covers 8 parks with some 40 villages. Notable elements are: – Church of Saint Simeon Stylites – Serjilla, an early Byzantine town – Pyramidal tombs at Al-Bara – Byzantine Bizzos Church at Rouweyha – Qalb Loze Basilica – 2nd century Roman temple at Baqirha

5.2. Cultural Heritage

A) Related to current constructions, buildings and art pieces in general

In the case of gardens: original and current style:
It is not the case.
B) Related to ancient remains

  • Archaeological components:

    Dead cities and archeological sites in Mount Simeon and Mount Kurd near Aleppo include: -Kalota Castle and churches, located 20 km northwest of Aleppo. The castle was originally built as a Roman temple during the 2nd century AD. After converting to Christianity, the temple was turned into a basilica within the 5th century. As a result of the wars between the Hamadanids and the Byzantine Empire, the church was turned into a castle during the 10th century. There are two well-preserved churches near the castle: the eastern church built in 492 and the western church of the 6th century. -Kharab Shams Basilica is one of the oldest best-preserved Christian structures in the Levant dates to the fourth century CE. The Byzantine church is located 21 km northwest of Aleppo. -Fafertin Church, a half-ruined Late Roman basilica dates to 372 AD, it is located 22 km northwest of Aleppo. According to the Aleppine historian Abdallah Hajjar, Fafertin Basilica is among the oldest dated churches in the world. -Surqanya village, located 23 km northwest of Aleppo, preserves the remains of an old Byzantine settlement with a half-ruined sixth century chapel. -Kafr Kira settlement in Burj Heidar village, located 24 km northwest of Aleppo,has many half-ruined Christian structures dating back to the fourth and sixth centuries. -Sinhar historic settlement, locally known as Simkhar,is located 24 km northwest of Aleppo in an isolated valley. The village was inhabited between the second and seventh centuries. Its Basilica is among the oldest churches in Syria and dates back to the fourth century, while the nearby chapel is sixth century. -Mushabbak Basilica is a well-preserved church from the second half of the fifth century (around 470), is located 25 km west of Aleppo, near the town of Daret A’zzeh. -Barjaka or Burj Suleiman village is located 26 km northwest of Aleppo. The site has remnants of an old hermit tower and a well-preserved chapel from the 6th century. -Churches of Sheikh Suleiman village, located 28 km west of Aleppo, is notable for its three ancient churches: a ruined church located at the centre of the village, a well-preserved southern basilica which was built in 602, and the Church of the Virgin Mary which belongs to the late fifth century and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in northern Syria. There is a hermit tower in the northern side of the village. -Kafr Nabo settlement, located 29 km west of Aleppo,is an Assyrian settlement of the ninth century BC and the site of an Roman temple which was converted into a church. There are also well-preserved residential buildings from the fifth and sixth centuries. -Barad, an ancient settlement, located 32 km west of Aleppo, has many old basilicas, for example, the Saint Julianus Maronite monastery (399-402 AD) where the shrine of Saint Maron is located, and a basilica at the northern part of the village built in 561. -Kimar settlement near Basuta village, located 35 km northwest of Aleppo, is a fifth-century CE village of the Late Roman and Byzantine eras, it has many well-preserved churches, towers and old water cisterns. -Church of Saint Simeon Stylites (Deir Semaan), is one of the most celebrated ecclesiastical monuments in Syria and among the oldest standing Christian churches in the world.It is located about 35 km northwest of Aleppo. -Sugane village, located 40 km northwest of Aleppo, is home to two half-ruined churches and old water cisterns. -Ain Dara temple, an Iron Age Syro-Hittite temple dating between the tenth and eighth centuries BC, is 45 km northwest of Aleppo. -Bab Al-Hawa village, located 50 km west of Aleppo on the Turkish border, is the site of several fourth-century churches and a well preserved historical gate from the sixth century AD. -Cyrrhus, an ancient city located 65 km north of Aleppo, is the site of Saints Cosmas and Damian Church (commonly known as Nabi Houri church), as well as a Roman amphitheatre and two old Roman bridges. -Many other sites and dead cities in the area are located at various distances around Aleppo and Idlib: Serjilla, Ebla, Bara, Qalb Loze Basilica, Baqirha Byzantine Church, Deir Mishmish Church, Benastur Monastery, Deir Amman churches, Sargible settlement, Tell A’de Church and Monastery and other settlements found in Jabal Halaqa region.

  • Traces in the environment of human activity: Ancient remains.
C) Related to intangible, social and spiritual values

  • Lifestyle, believing, cults, traditional rites: The inhabitants of the site gradually were converted to Christianity. They were inspired by hermits such as Saint Simeon, who drew lots of pilgrims. Subsequently a powerful monastic movement developed in the region.

5.3. Quality

Condition: environmental/ cultural heritage degradation:
Protection and management requirements The dynamic of the legal protection is heading in the right direction, notably following the decrees creating the parks, and to control farming and urban development compatible with the archaeological, monumental and landscape values of the sites. This must be reinforced by a revision of the Antiquities Law to improve the protection of the relict cultural landscapes. The property is currently (2010) managed by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), but on a transitional basis. The final management structure for the property will include eight parks set up for each of the sites, two management centres and the Maison du patrimoine to manage the ensemble overall and coordinate conservation, under the control of the DGAM, the Ministry of Tourism and the provincial governors. These bodies are currently being set up and are essential. In liaison with the municipalities, they will be tasked with overseeing successful economic, social and tourism development compatible with the conservation and expression of the property's Outstanding Universal Value. --- The Director-General’s comments follow reports about damage to the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo that occurred during the fierce fighting for control of the city, which has been on going for several weeks. “I am deeply distressed by the daily news about the extreme human suffering and the escalation of damage to cultural heritage throughout the country. We saw damage to the Citadel in July and the souqs ten days ago, and the Umayyad Mosque, heart of the religious life of the city, one of the most beautiful mosques in the Muslim world, is being severely endangered – the extent of which we do not know yet. In Northern Syria, the region of the Ancient Villages inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2011 is heavily struck and it seems that the invaluable Saint-Simeon byzantine complex might have been touched. --- The majority of the dead cities are well-preserved, and tourists can access the sites quite freely despite the ongoing archaeological excavations and some restoration work, though some of the Dead Cities are quite difficult to reach without a guide. Relatively few of the Dead Cities have any archaeological excavations taking place, and unfortunately the majority of people living in close proximity to them have no understanding of their importance. However, the local inhabitants are always welcoming to visitors.
Perspectives/Views/ Points of interest/Setting:

The Ancient Cities: 40 villages grouped in eight archaeological parks, and all the archaeological remains already mentioned in this file.

6. VALUES

Tangible

  • Archaeological
The main tangible value of the "Ancient villages of Northern Syria" is archaeological. Abandoned in the 8th to 10th centuries, the villages, which date from the 1st to 7th centuries, feature a remarkably well preserved landscape and the architectural remains of dwellings, pagan temples, churches, cisterns, bathhouses etc. The relict cultural landscape of the villages also constitutes an important illustration of the transition from the ancient pagan world of the Roman Empire to Byzantine Christianity. Vestiges illustrating hydraulic techniques, protective walls and Roman agricultural plot plans furthermore offer testimony to the inhabitants' mastery of agricultural production.

Intangible

  • Historical
The main intangible value of the "Ancient villages of Northern Syria" is historical. They provide a remarkable testimony to rural life in late Antiquity and during the Byzantine period.
Authenticity:
As a result of the absence of human occupation for a thousand years, the absence of any re-use of the stones and the absence of restoration/reconstruction campaigns in the 20th century, the property and its landscapes have retained a very high degree of authenticity. However, recent rural relocation could affect the conditions of authenticity, although replanting respectful of the ancient agricultural plot plan should contribute to revitalising the landscape without affecting its authenticity.
Universality:
Located in a vast Limestone Massif, in the northwest of Syria, some forty ancient villages provide a coherent and exceptionally broad insight into rural and village lifestyles in late Antiquity and the Byzantine Period. Abandoned in the 8th-10th centuries, they still retain a large part of their original monuments and buildings, in a remarkable state of preservation: dwellings, pagan temples, churches and Christian sanctuaries, funerary monuments, bathhouses, public buildings, buildings with economic or artisanal purposes, etc. It is also an exceptional illustration of the development of Christianity in the East, in village communities. Grouped in eight archaeological parks, the ensemble forms a series of unique and exceptional relict cultural landscapes. iii) The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the lifestyles and cultural traditions of the rural civilisations that developed in the Middle East, in the context of a Mediterranean climate in mid-altitude limestone mountains from the 1st to the 7th centuries. iv) The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide exceptional testimony to the architecture of the rural house and civilian and religious community buildings at the end of the Classical era and in the Byzantine Period. Their association in villages and places of worship forms relict landscapes characteristic of the transition between the ancient pagan world and Byzantine Christianity. v) The Ancient Villages of Northern Syria and their relict landscapes provide an eminent example of a sustainable rural settlement from the 1st to the 7th centuries, based on the careful use of the soil, water and limestone, and the mastery of production of valuable agricultural crops. The economic functionality of the habitat, hydraulic engineering, low protective walls and the Roman agricultural plot plan inscribed on the relict landscapes are testimony to this.

7. ENCLOSURES

Historical and graphical data (drawings, paintings, engravings, photographs, literary items…):

Ancient villages of Northern Syria is one of all of the cultural landscapes of Syria which are included in The Cultural Landscape inventory runned by Med-O-Med.

Bibliography:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1348 http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/477/ http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/945 http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/774 http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/862 http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5115/ http://whc.unesco.org/venice2002 http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/ancientvillagessyria.html http://www.heritagevisit.com/ancient-villages-of-northern-syria http://www.worldwarisan.net/home/ancient-villages-of-northern-syria -Burns, R. (2009). Monuments of Syria: An Historical Guide, p.109 -UNESCO. (2011). Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. -UNESCO. (2001). Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. World Heritage Committee. 25 session. Helsinki, Finland. -UNESCO. (2002). Cultural Landscapes: the Challenges of Conservation. Associated Workshops, World Heritage. Ferrara, Italy.

Compiler Data: Sara Martínez Frías.