The village of Maaloula is located to the northeast of Damascus and built into the rugged mountainside at an altitude of more than 1500 meters. The village has a population of just a few hundred. Maaloula, from the Aramaic word ma'la meaning "entrance", 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.
The Mar Sarkis monastery was built in the 4th century on the remains of a pagan temple and it bears a plain and simple appearance. It was named after St. Sarkis (St. Sergius), a Roman soldier, executed for his Christian beliefs. The Mar Taqla monastery holds the remains of St. Taqla (Thecla), daughter of one of Seleucid's princes, and pupil of St. Paul. According to legend, in the 1st century AD, soldiers pursued St.Taqla and her father because of her Christian faith. She came upon a mountain and after praying, the mountain split to reveal a gorge like that at Petra, through which she escaped. The town is named after this entrance to the mountain. Naturally there are many variations of this story among the residents of Maaloula, which adds to its historical and spiritual significance.
Many pilgrims, from different ethnicities come to this holy place to receive blessings and make offerings. A visit to Maaloula is a must for any Damascene, this is why back in the 1960s as part of the curriculum of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Damascus, mandatory field visits took place to draw and paint in Maaloula, a practice that continues until this day. As Kayyali taught at the university for a few years in the early 1960s, he would visit this place on a monthly basis, if not more, and would paint the landscape and the mountain around it, either alone or with his students. Maaloula is one of the main subjects in Kayyali's artwork.
Given its blue grey wall colours, it was a natural draw for him to find this mystical place a true inspiration as it was close to the colours he cherished and used repeatedly. The present lot is a rare and spectacular example from the 1960s.