The town is located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus,and built into the rugged mountainside, at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. It is known as one of three remaining villages where Western Aramaic is still spoken, the other two being the nearby villages Jubb'adin and Al-Sarkha (Bakhah).Maaloula is an important centre of Christianity. The town's butter-yellow and pale-blue houses are stacked higgledy-piggledy on top of another, huddled strikingly against the sheer cliffs that mark the edge of the Qallamoun mountains. There are two important monasteries in Ma'loula: Greek Catholic Mar Sarkis and Greek Orthodox Mar Thecla. The Greek Catholic monastery of St. Sergius (Mar Sarkis or Mar Sergus) has a chapel with a beautiful display of icons. Built in the 4th century on the remains of a pagan temple, the Mar Sarkis monastery is one of the oldest in Christendom. That it likely predates the Council of Nicea (325 AD)Mar Sarkis is designed after the pattern of the martyrion (a shrine dedicated to a martyr) and is dedicated to St. Sergius, a Roman soldier who was executed for his Christian beliefs (Sergius has a grander basilica in Rasafa, Syria).The convent of Mar Sarkis retains its historic feel and owns an interesting collection of religious icons from the 16th to the 18th century including one of the Virgin Mary and another of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. The nuns, some of whom speak English, show visitors around. Further down in the village is the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Thecla (Mar Takla),The building was constructed on several levels. On the top floor is a modern church with a dome and a cave into which filters water with miraculous properties. This religious monument receives an unending stream of Christian and Muslim pilgrims. Other religious relics can be found in the convent but what strikes one most is the peaceful atmosphere of the place. Path Between the rock Thecla was a student of (and some say married to) Saint Paul and was one of the earliest Christian martyrs.As one legend has it, after being cornered by soldiers sent to capture her, Thecla prayed to God, lightning struck the cliff and a cleft appeared in the rock face, facilitating her flight. As she ran through the passage it closed behind her, effectively locking the pursuing soldiers out. The Convent of Saint Thecla, a sanctuary for nuns and orphans, is of minor interest, but just beyond it can be found the legendary escape route, Saint Thecla Gap. Cut through the rock by run-off from the plateau above the village.