Day 5 Hosn Suleiman, Crac des Chevaliers and St George
Our visit to the Roman temple at Hosn Suleiman was dampened by the rain, which was a great pity because the views towards Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley should have been spectacular. There are lush fields, olive groves, citrus orchards, pomegranates and almond threes, so it must look glorious in the spring.
The mud made walking through the temple (another Bel / Baal) difficult and we also had to navigate a small brook running through the site.
The children were all sporting presents to mark the end of Ramadan, The little girls have handbags or fancy glasses but the boys have toy guns. They’re not ordinary guns – Kalashnikov & Beretta – all very lifelike. It’s quite disconcerting traveling through villages, being attacked by up to 30 small boys aiming at the coach!
We also visited the site of the battle of Kadesh, a flat plain between two mountains. I had no idea that it had taken place in Syria.
Back at Crac des Chevaliers we stood and admired the massive walls, a picture perfect crusader castle atop the crest of a mountain. The interior is complex, due to successions of rebuilding, extensions and alterations by the numerous conquerors over the centuries. The French even gave it a makeover in the 1920s to make it look more romantic.
Our guide, Ahmed, is a big tease and loves telling us porky pies about the sites as we visit them, then putting us right and saying that he was just joking. However he came unstuck when he told us about a German tourist who fell into the castle reservoir. None of us believed him and he got quite upset. and swore it to be true because it was in all of the papers.
The nearby monastery of St George is built into a 5th century Justinian temple. The original chapel for the crusaders was built above the Roman remains and then a 19th century church was built over it. We stayed for spine tingling evening prayers (Greek Orthodox). Muslims and Christians worship at this shrine because they both recognise St George but Ahmed, was shocked when we told him that the pope has recently delisted St George, Syria’s National saint.
Ahmed later told us a really good joke: An American, an African and a Syrian are asked the same question – What is your opinion of the world food shortage? The American replied “shortage?” The African replied “food?” The Syrian replied “opinion?”