Looking west out of the service bus from Hama to these ruins, the horizon is dominated by some beautiful little mountains which rise out of the Al-Ghab plain. They then form the backdrop to the 1800 metre long Roman colonnade of Apamea whose fluted columns & temple remains stretch across the hillside. Between the colonnade & the mountains, another hill rises up which is crowned by castle walls which now contains a densely populated little enclave of rural life.
Arriving rather early there was no-one around and so the guy working in the ticket booth was rather chatty. He told us that they believe to have only uncovered & re-erected around 10% of the ruins, and how they need to preserve the castle, too, which would involve the removal of the people living inside.
This land was given to the local populace whilst the region was still under French rule, and now the government is in a legal black-hole, effectively faced with a situation of having to evict them. As we later walked inside its labyrinth of streets & passages, the difficultly of the situation is evident. The community is thriving. We were followed by children, inquisitive to our purpose here, who evidently see little of the groups of tourists who come to visit the colonnade a couple of kilometres away.
Sitting down to lunch in Qala’at al-Mudiq we were invited over to the table soon-to-be hajji and his family. He would later leave for Mecca, and the family were eating together before his departure. Our notions of Arabic were meagre, but the son of the family spoke a little English and, with the aid of his elder sister whispering phrases into his ear, managed to maintain the conversation. It was interesting to have this interaction with a family unit, and see the (indirect) engagement of the mother & daughter.