Syria: Al Mashtayah – St George Monastery
Not far from the Krak des Chevaliers fortress lies the historic St George monastery. The Greek Orthodox monastery dates back to the 5th century AD and was built on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The old Roman road led through the valley where the monastery was built. The entire valley here was inhabited by Christian communities since the Byzantine times and to this day 27 of the 32 villages are Christian. While the current building is relatively modern and was built in 1857, the basement levels hold a 13th century chapel with really old iconostasis and even a very small underground room dating to the 6th century. Back in the early Byzantine days the monastery was just a series of caves in the mountains, while now it looks like a grand structure towering above the town and the surrounding hills.