Maaloula (Arabic: معلولا, Ma‘lūlā, from the Aramaic word ܡܥܠܐ, ma‘lā, meaning 'entrance') is a town in Syria dominated by speakers of Western Neo-Aramaic. With two other nearby towns Bakh'a and Jubb'adin, it is the only place where the Western branch of the Aramaic languages is still spoken. 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. The distance and geological features only aided the longevity of this linguistic oasis for over one and half thousand years. However, modern roads and transportation, as well as accessibility to Arabic-language television and print media - and for some time until recently, also state policy - have eroded that linguistic heritage. As of 2005, the town has a population of 2,000.
Religiously, the population consists of both Christians 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.
Identity of these Arameans[change | change source]
Most people go on to assume that people in the Middle-East are Arab. While Arabic is the official language there are groups in "Arab" countries that have a clearly distinct culture. These Arameans are not Arab but have actually dwelled in Syria thousands of years before the Arabs came along. While a lot of them have turned to speak Arabic they retain the identity and the language which they use in church fellowship.