Mar Musa, is properly known as Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi, the literally translation: Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian.
Mar Musa is a well preserved ruin approximately 50 miles north of Damascus. Their preservation for centuries are most likely due to the remote and hidden location in the mountains.
During World War I, the ruins were long forgotten for centuries. Any knowledge of them was most likely a secret to a few Bedouin, who had used the place to find shelter and rest, due to its hidden and remote location.
In Destiny’s War, Mar Musa becomes the perfect place for a base of operations for the Camel Corp’s 5th Company secret mission. Marion leads a patrol through the desert to Mar Musa.
Marion describes Mar Musa in Destiny’s War:
“Yes, old ruins in the mountains. A few monks stay there. It is like a monastery. It is on the east side of the mountains near the pass from Al-Nabek used by the Bedouins. The place is secret, known but to a few. Out of curiosity, I once visited with my Bedouin friend who knew about it.”
“What is the terrain like? Fortifications, any other details?” the major asks.
“It is protected on three sides. There is a narrow mountain pass from the east leading to Mar Musa. The path is hard to find unless you know what to look for. Mar Musa is hidden in a ravine in the mountains, almost impossible to find.” I point to the east of Al-Nabek, on the other side of the marked mountain range.
I can see it in my mind’s eye. “The terrain is steep. An old bridge suspends across a ravine to the south, leading to a small path running along the ridge to the west. I remember you can see well into the west from the top of the ridge. There are old buildings and ruins. I’m not sure if there is enough shelter for an entire company, but certainly 50 … maybe more. There were only a couple of monks the last time I visited. They were using one of the old ruins as a temple. The rest of the place was deserted.”
In 1981 the American University in Beirut launched an expedition to find and study the ruins at Deir Mar Musa. Their expedition was met by an armed group, sent by the Syrian Catholic priest in Nebek, asking the expedition to leave. The team published their limited findings and eventually was able to return more than 10 years later. Upon their return in 1993, they found the ruins occupied by a monastic community led by Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio.
Father Paolo heard of the 1982 expedition and with help from the Istituto del Restauro in Rome and the Syria’s Department of Antiquities he was able to begin saving the fresco, repair the roof, and begin some restoration work. In 1992 he formed a monastic order at Deir Mar Musa named the order Al-Khalil is a reference to the Qur’anic epithet for Abraham, Khalil al-Rahman, or “Friend of the Merciful (God)” and is a direct link to the prophet seen as the founder of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The site became more welcoming to visitors and archaeologist interested in preserving the history.
Since the visit in 1982, Robert Mason and colleagues have conducted extensive archaeological research at Deir Mar Musa and the surrounding area. In 2009 additional ancient buildings, stone circils, tombs and caves discovered near the monastery. Research suggest the ruins may date back 10,000 years, with earlies construction in the Neolithic period.