2010 began in Maalula, a small village that is butted-up against cliff-faces bearing crosses and housing little caves and tombs. This village of 5000 people is the last bastion of Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus Christ, a language which is dying.
I met a Syrian teacher of Aramaic who told me of a well-equipped centre that was built here. The government backed a plan to promote the language, but like so many things in Syria, the project has stalled. The similarities between the alphabet and that of Hebrew was an influencing factor.
Other circumstances threaten the village, like the lack of secondary school, which means that families often move to Damascus in search of a better education & therefore future for their children. Desertification is threatening much of the arable land. Several years ago, vines grew on the slopes of these foothills of Jebel Libnan ash-Sharqiyya.
Nevertheless, a French-based NGO is working here and in the process of developing the region. With funding sourced, and much of the red-tape having been cut through, it will be interesting to see how they progress. In addition to the convents, monasteries & churches for which the village attracts some guide-book acclaim, the landscape around Maalula has much to offer, too.