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Qal' at Sem' an: a pilgrimage centre in the limestone massif
  Near the summit of the Limestone Massif and not far from the village of Telanissos, stands Qal'at Sem'an. Upon this hill St Symeon the Stylite; retired at an early age (he was not more than twenty years old) in 410-412, and remained until his death in 459. He was a recluse and great ascetic, and while at first he chose to be chained inside a tall enclosure, he spent most of his life on top of a column of nearly twenty metres. This extraordinary man was known to have miraculously prevented many natural disasters, such as earthquakes, droughts and attacks by beasts. Pious pilgrims from around the world floked in to pay their respects, among them the Persian court and emperor Theodosios II's (408-450) sisters. Stylitism, this peculiar form of ascetism, became popular in Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Georgia, and even Gaul. Symeon of the Admirable Mountain (521-592), also known as Symeon the Younger, and John of Kafr Derian are two other famous Syrian Stylites.
  Telanissos (Deir Seman) was a large pilgrimage centre, with vast hotels and many churches. It was linked to the pilgrimage complex on Qal'at Sem'an by means of a portico, lined with stalls where one could buy necessities such as candles, offerings (ex-voto) and pilgrim souvenirs. The imposing complex, with its 12000 m2 of buildings and vast elongated enclosure, dates of emperor Zeno's (475-490) reign. Three large doors on the enclosure's shorter southern wall, each followed by an arch, lead onto a first courtyard, where the keeper's lodge and a fountain stood. From here, one proceded northwards through four pairs of arches into a second much larger esplanade, lined with the principal buildings of the complex: a hostel for the visitors, a small church and adjacent baptistery with pyramidal timber roof, a monastery with three-storeyed dormitories, chapel and cemetery of its own, and, at the far end, the martyrion itself. The baptistery was built in such a way as to conceal the access to the bath from the curious eyes of the visitors: its octagonal inner chamber was flanked by corridors allowing for easy circulation (as in St John of Ephesus, St Theodore of Jerash, St Menas), and the bath itself was tucked into a large niche which was accessible only by the eastern corridor. The building's pyramidal timber roof probably echoed that of the martyrion's octagon.
  The martyrion consists of four basilica-shaped wings of roughly 26x23 m (only the eastern wing is 39 m long) spreading from a central octagone (c. 26x26 m) to form a cross. Because of the steep terrain, the western basilica was built on a series of arches, which formed a loggia with spectacular views over the Afrin valley. Mass was held in the eastern wing, with its unusual, for noth Syrian standards triple-apsed sanctuary. Floor mosaics, marble and opus sectile revetment, as well as a double-staircase ambo, furnished the edifice. St Symeon's column stood in the middle of the octagone (its remains are still in place), and its summit, the very spot where the saint had lived, could be seen through the iron grills of the basilicas' upper storey interior windows. Visions of the hooded bearded saint were said to appear regularly inside the octagon. Limestone masonry and timber roofs were used throughout the complex, as in the villages of the surrounding Massif. Simple, elegant mouldings line the doors and windows, and fine acanthus-leaf friezes decorate the numerous columns and arches.

See also: Pilgrimage centres