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Afrin in Lines » The Archeological Sites in Afrin » SAMAAN CITADEL

Samaan Citadel is located in the farthest southern end of Mount Liloon. It was built on a rocky protuberance to an elevation of (564) meters. Priest Samaan chose this isolated place to worship God according to the custom of the Christian priests.

Samaan (Symeon) was born in 368 AD in Sis Town which is near the present city of Adanah in Turkey. He was a shepherd in his youth, then he joined a group of priests near Sis. After staying with them for two years, he moved to Tel Aada abbey south of Sheik Barakat Mount and spent ten years in prayer and asceticism where he was eating once a week, so he was asked to leave the abbey because he had hurt himself too much. In 412 AD, he resorted to Tilanisous Town (the present Samaan abbey) where he began his forty-days fast and bit by bit it became a habit. Afterwards, he moved to a mountaintop and tied himself to a rock using an iron chain and because of that,  people visited him from everywhere. He built a column for worship and to avoid people congestion, and gradually he increased the height of that column till it was (16) meters in height; he spent (42) years on that column until he passed away in 459 AD.

The citadel site is connected with the stretch of Mount Liloon in the north, while in the other directions, it is bordered by rocky cliffs especially in the west side where it is more than (100) meters in height.

The citadel is erected on a rocky protuberance and it overlooks, in the west side, the vast plain of Joomeh (in Afrin) which is penetrated by River Afrin like a great silver snake. This wonderful scenery is framed by Mount Amanous, so it seems like a natural painting especially at sunset. "This beautiful scenery was flaming Symeon' belief in God when he was meditating on his column at sunrise and sunset", Father Koshakji said.

The history of site building:

Samaan church is one of the biggest churches in the world. The builders chose the cross-like column whose eastern arm is longer than the other equal arms as the center of the church. They began the building from 476 AD to 490 AD where the church was 500 meters in space, but after several years, other parts were added to it: the big abbey, the baptism home, the graveyard, student houses and guest houses, so the total space became 12000 square meters.

In 528 AD and 536 AD, the church was seriously damaged by a strong earthquake and perhaps its wooden ceiling had fallen at that time.

When Muslims controled this region, the church remained in the hands of Christians in return for paying tax. After the weakness of the Islamic State, Byzantine recontroled it when Nekfour, the Byzantine commander, overcame the Hamdanese in Aleppo in 970 AD. He built a strong wall supported by (27) towers around it, and consequently the church changed from a religious center into a well-fortified military citadel in the border zone between Byzantine and Muslims, and since then it was known as "Samaan Citadel".

In 985 AD, Saad Addawla Ibn Seif Addawla, who controled this site for a short period, killed many of its priests and sold others as slaves (Hajjar, page43). In 1017 AD, the Fatimese controled it. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD, it became a struggle field between the different disputed forces over Aleppo and Intakia: the Byzantine, the Crusaders, the Zenki, the Ayyoobi and later the Mamluke and the Ottoman. Consequently, it lost its military importance and was abandoned gradually.

In the sixteenth century, a Mount Liloon inhabitant dwelled this site and added two storeies to the church in its eastern side (Dr.Shaath, page25). The church stayed in this condition till the specialized Syrian bodies took care of it as a historical archeological feature.

The citadel is about (20) km from Afrin city and (40) km from Aleppo; it is visited by tens thousands visitors yearly as well as thousands tourists from all over the world especially from Europe.

Samaan village:

After the death of Samaan (Symeon) who was widely known at that time, the region gained a holy status, and the nearby village had changed into a city for priests, in which three abbeys were built, each with its own church and other adjuncts, as well as guest houses for pilgrims and visitors of high rank. However, the only surviving abbey is the small one south of the village which was built in 550 AD in memory of Samaan (Symeon).

In the Byzantine age, Tilanisous City (Samaan abbey) was a well known Christian center, on one hand, and a resort for the rich of Intakia, on the other. Also, it was a shelter for fugitives from taxes and military service. The city was revived too much in the fifth and sixth centuries AD because of its location on the road of Apamia and Sirous and for this reason, many guest houses were built there. The present Tilanisous City (Samaan village) is only 500 meters from Samaan citadel, so it witnessed undoubtedly the same events which happened to the citadel; it was seriously damaged during the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD.

The references:

1- Samaan Citadel by Dr.Shawqi Shaath.
2-The Heroes of God by Yousef Koshakji.
3- Mar Samaan Church by Abdullah Hajjar.
4- Articles on Syria Relics by Polus Yateem.
5- A manuscript by Dr. Muhammad Abdo Ali.

Translated by
Rashid Oso

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Afrin in Lines » The Archeological Sites in Afrin » SAMAAN CITADEL