Wikipedia: Ma'loula or Maaloula (Arabic: معلولا), is a village in the Rif Dimashq Governorate in Syria. The town is located 56 km to the northeast of Damascus, and built into the rugged mountainside, at an altitude of more than 1500 meters. It is known as the last surviving place where Western Aramaic (Aramaic of Jesus) is still spoken. As of 2005, the town has a population of 2,000. However, during summer, it increases to about 6000, due to people coming from Damascus for vacations. Half a century ago, 15,000 people lived in Maalula. Religiously, the population consists of both Christians (mainly Melkite Greek Catholic) and Muslims. For the Muslim inhabitants, the legacy is all the more remarkable given that they were not Arabized, unlike most other Syrians who like them were Islamized over the centuries but also adopted Arabic and shifted to an "Arab" ethnic identity.
Modern civilization began right here in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley. Also known as the Fertile Crescent or Mesopotamia, this is the place where, six thousand years ago, agriculture, writing and mathematics were brought into widespread use.The term "Middle East" comes from the British navy, which used it to describe the countries on the trade route from Europe to India and China. Everything from Afghanistan to Morocco may possibly be classified as "middle eastern", depending on whom you ask -- and when.Only a partial list of past Empires in the middle eastern territory includes Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and the Roman Empire!When northern Europe was still lurking about in slimy cold stone castles playing chess, the Middle East was enjoying the flowers of poetry, luxurious craftsmanship, music and literature. In fact, the Renaissance in Europe was partly inspired by stories brought back from the middle east by travelers along the trade route.Strategic location, religious history and the world's largest supply of crude oil have kept the Middle East at the center of world activity for centuries. The saga continues.Text by Steve Smith.