The ancient Syrian village of Maaloula, where the locals still speak Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, and which is one of the world's oldest Christian settlements, is preparing for an influx of pilgrims ahead of the Assumption of Mary next month.
In anticipation of the pilgrims, volunteers have helped to clean up the area and removed a fallen boulder from a pathway.
AFP reported that one volunteer named Yahya, 29, dabbed a wet cloth on the rock to rid it of graffiti left during the conflict. "We'll make it even more beautiful than it used to be," he said.
Located on rugged mountains 35 miles northeast of the capital Damascus, Maaloula is one of the last three remaining villages in the world where Aramaic is still spoken. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that contains two important ancient monasteries; Saint Sarki and Saint Thecla. According to Orthodox tradition, Saint Thecla was a disciple of Saint Paul who lived and died in Maaloula.
Strategically located between Damascus and Homs, in 2013 the village fell to the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front forcing most of the mainly Orthodox Christian inhabitants to flee with reports of ancient monasteries and churches having been desecrated and looted, including Saint Thelca. A group of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns and three maids were kidnapped by the group and released following over three months in captivity in a prison exchange for over 150 women held in Syrian state prisons. The following year the village was liberated by the Syrian army and the shrine of Saint Thecla reopened in the second half of 2018 following restoration work as visitors and pilgrims began returning to the sites.