During the Roman period, an extensive network of roads was constructed to connect Syria’s major urban centers. Two of the most important cities in the region were Damascus (دمشق) and Heliopolis, modern Baalbek (Lebanon). The village of Souq Wadi Barada (سوق وادي بردى), then the Roman settlement of Abila, was located along the route that linked these two cities. Considerable remains from the Roman period can be found just west of the village. An impressive two hundred meter section of road had to be cut through the mountain in order to maintain an elevation safe from flooding of the Barada River below. This remains well preserved and provides a remarkable example of Roman engineering.
Several Latin inscriptions record the restoration of this road to the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, indicating it was carried out between 161 and 169. These inscriptions are still visible overlooking the rock-cut section of the road at both ends. Amusingly, an inscription attributing construction to the people of nearby Abila was inserted underneath, indicating that their contributions may have initially been overlooked. Northeast of the road are several dozen rock-cut burial tombs from the same period. One of the tombs features a decorative rock-carved relief of two figures, but it is badly weathered (and likely the victim of iconoclasm). The style is reminiscent of similar tombs found in Qatura (قاطورة). Other tombs in the area lack any notable carvings or inscriptions, but the dramatic setting is striking.
While the modern village of Souq Wadi Barada (سوق وادي بردى) has Hellenistic origins, only a few remnants of this heritage survive, mostly in the form of large stones recycled into modern structures. The area is associated with the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, and on the mountain summit to the south of the village is al-Nabi Habil Shrine (مقام النبي هابيل). According to local tradition, this is the location where Cain buried Abel after murdering him. The shrine was built in 1599 and is a site of pilgrimage primarily for Shia Muslims. It is likely that a Byzantine church predated the current shrine, and that an earlier Roman temple existed prior. Some historians speculate it could have been a temple tomb to Lysanias of Abila, a local ruler in the early Roman period.
Preservation Status: There have been no reports of damage to the archaeological remains on the outskirts of the town as a result of the ongoing crisis in Syria. There have been reports of fighting in the village itself, however. Souq Wadi Barada (سوق وادي بردى) was struck by a car bombing in October 2013 that killed dozens of local residents. The town returned to government control in January of 2017, with opposition militants being granted safe passage to Idleb (ادلب).
Getting There: Occasional microbuses travel between Damascus (دمشق) and Souq Wadi Barada (سوق وادي بردى). They depart from the large bus station at Baramkeh (برامكة) in central Damascus (دمشق). The trip takes between thirty and forty-five minutes depending on traffic, and the Roman road and tombs are located on the right-hand side of the road, just beyond the modern village of Souq Wadi Barada (سوق وادي بردى).
al-Nabi Habil Shrine (مقام النبي هابيل) is approached from a different route, from the highway linking Damascus (دمشق) to Beirut, Lebanon. Exiting the highway in the direction of Bludan & al-Zabadani (بلودان و الزبداني), the first road on the right leads up to the shrine. There is no public transportation to this site, which is about five kilometers from the main highway.
Coordinates: 33°37’31.11″N / 36°05’51.70″E
Transliteration Variants: Souk Wadi Barada, Suq Wadi Barada, Suk Wadi Barada
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