The village of Maaloula is located 56 kilometres to the northeast of Damascus and built into the rugged mountainside, at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. The village has a population of just 2000, which belies its historical and spiritual significance. Maaloula, from the Aramaic word ma'la meaning "entrance", referring to the split in the mountain, a gorge like that at Petra. It is the only place where the western dialect of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, is still spoken. It is home to two important monasteries, Mar Sarkis and Mar Tqla.
In and around the village are the remains of monasteries, convents, churches, shrines and sanctuaries. Many pilgrims, both Christian and Muslim, come to Maaloula to receive blessings and make offerings.
Since its establishment in the 1960s, part of the curriculum of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus University has been mandatory field visits to draw and paint in Maaloula, a practice that continues until this day. Fateh Moudaress and Louay Kayyali both taught at the university for many years, and would often return to this mystical place many times as a subject for their paintings, over a long time period and in different media and different styles.