Qalaat Samaan قلعة سمعان

Qalaat Samaan (قلعة سمعان)

The most impressive archaeological site in the countryside of Aleppo (حلب) is the remarkable Byzantine religious complex known today as Qalaat Samaan (قلعة سمعان). Constructed between 476 and 491, this monumental church was dedicated to Saint Simeon Stylites. It was on this hilltop that the ascetic spent nearly forty years living atop a stone pillar, devoting himself to religious observance and preaching to those who visited him. The site became an important place of pilgrimage for Christians throughout the region.

Born in 388 in the province of Cilicia (now Adana, Turkey), Saint Simeon Stylites joined the monastery of the nearby town of Telanissos, modern day Deir Samaan (دير سمعان), in 412. He eventually left the community, taking up residence on this hill above the town. Saint Simeon Stylites confined himself to a small platform perched on a tall pillar. As word of his religious devotion spread, his presence began to attract a stream of pilgrims. Simeon remained living upon the pillar until his death in 459. His body was initially taken to Antioch for burial, then later moved to Constantinople.

Although monastic movement of this region was largely opposed to the church leadership in Constantinople, the Byzantine capital came to embrace the popular Saint Simeon Stylites and supported the construction of this ambitious project after his death. In addition to the massive cruciform church, a baptistry was built on the southern end of the hill, and later a monastery and chapel for resident and visiting clergy. The hilltop itself needed to be leveled and terraced to accommodate the large scale of this project. The lower town of Deir Samaan (دير سمعان) provided services to the pilgrims, and there several inns, churches, monasteries and other buildings were constructed. Telanissos, as the town was then known, was connected to the new basilica complex on the hilltop by a triumphal way. Major earthquakes in 526 and 528 destroyed much of nearby Antioch, and were probably responsible for significant damage to the site. After the Muslim conquest of Syria, this region was frequently contested between Byzantine and Muslim forces. The Byzantine army fortified the site in the tenth century, but it was retaken and sacked in 985 and again in 1017. Mention of Qalaat Samaan (قلعة سمعان) as a pilgrimage destination appear to cease by the 12th century.

Since 2012, the site of Qalaat Samaan (قلعة سمعان) has been occupied by opposition militants. There have been several unconfirmed reports of damage to the site, which has apparently been used as a militant training ground.