Christians Uphold Long and Sacred Heritage in Syria

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YRIA, Damascus — The Syrian Ministry of Tourism invited journalists from Tehran to Tunis to check out its top attractions during a trip to the normally reclusive country. Fox News hopped a caravan and went along for the ride.

Syrians are proud of the fact that Christians and Muslims have traditionally lived together in harmony in Syria. The historical monuments alone tell the story of the intertwining of faiths.

Massive columns, the remains of a pagan temple, which was at once the Temple of Hadad — and later the Temple of Jupiter — face the entrance to Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque, one of the holiest shrines in Islam. The mosque you see today was actually built on the site of the old temple. But there was yet another interlude.

When Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire, a basilica to St. John the Baptist was built on the site. In fact, reportedly the head of St. John the Baptist is buried in the mosque.

When the Muslims entered Damascus in 636 AD, Islamic places of worship were cobbled onto the site, and Christians and Muslims shared the space for prayer. In the early eighth century, with Damascus now the capital of the Muslim world, the basilica was converted entirely to a mosque at enormous cost and grandeur, with rich mosaics and precious stones. Some say it took seven years of tax to pay for the grandiose building.

Though now it is exclusively a Muslim place of worship, non-Muslims are welcome to visit. The mosque is always buzzing with visitors, from Americans to Iranian pilgrims.

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