Since when our lives have been totally upset, and the joy of travelling is denied to us, I find myself more and more often to go back in my memories to the places I discovered in the various countries where I have lived. I had written this piece after discovering the absolutely amazing convent of Mar Saba, in Palestine. I want to share it in hope we’ll soon be able to discover again.
The Little Prince said that what is essential is invisible to the eye, and all travellers know that the beauty of the most breathtaking landscape, the most overwhelming views, the most fascinating people must be conquered with hours of travel, arduous walks, and daring to always go a little bit further
My relationship with the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Mar Saba, near Bethlehem, Palestine, was difficult from the start. As a loved one who denies to you, it repeatedly eluded me for mysterious reasons, increasing my desire to conquer it. I knew from friends that this hard-to-find place was not to be missed, though women are forbidden from entering it – they can only stay in a nearby tower and observe it from high above.
When I finally found it, after traveling on a long road where buses with exhaust pipes tied on with wire shared the way with donkeys and horses, and then suddenly in the midst of the purest desert, I was disappointed: You can’t see much from the angle offered to tourists, and I wondered how anyone could describe the place as unique and of ravishing beauty.
I decided I would explore the other side of the convent, the part hidden to the visitor’s side, the most difficult to reach. With my husband’s 4×4 and a bedouin young boy with eyes bluer than the bluest sky, we set off on a dirty and isolated dusty road, that wound through light brown and barren hills as far as the eye could see, in the golden honey twilight.
The further we went, the greater the sense of isolation – all around us we could see no trace of human settlement, no animals, no people, just hills and crevices on their slopes, and some clumps of dry grass here and there. The silence was immense.
We went up and down the undulating hills, on rocks, holes, steep climbs and sharp descents, until the Bedouin boy signalled to stop the car. We followed him on foot, and there it was: the warmest, uniquest, most incongruous view opened to my eyes. A terracotta colour compound of different blocks carved in the rock that formed the monastery – so sudden, so intimate yet so reserved, so frozen in time, solely and untouched witness of an unchanged and unchangeable world.
A priest was sitting on a bench – a tiny figure of man in black, so small compared to the magnificence of the place, and yet so much part of it. The Mar Saba Monastery is one of the oldest inhabited monasteries on earth.
I stood a long time observing the delicate architecture, the windows opening like curious faces, the combination of warm and soft colours, and decided that it did not matter that I was forbidden to penetrate it – as long as no absurd human law would prevent me from standing on the edge of a barren hill and contemplate a place of such majesty and eternity. A truly hidden gem.