IN war-torn Syria, an ancestor of Notre-Dame still stands :

An arched entrance flanked by two towers, elaborate carvings and a broad-aided nave :
A 5th century limestone church in northwestern Syria is the architectural forerunner of France's  famed Notre-Dame cathedral.

Hemmed by the village of Qalb Lozeh [Arabic, for Heart of the Almond], the cathedral which goes by the same name is widely hailed as Syria's finest Byzantine-era architecture.

And it is believed to have been the source of inspiration for Romanesque style,'' says Middle East cultural expert Diana Darke.

Romanesque architecture evolved into the Gothic style that defines Notre-Dame, she tells AFP.

The payout of the church in northwestern Syria has many similarities with Notre-Dame, she says.

''The specific similarities between Notre-Dame and Qalb Lozeh are first and foremost, the twin-lower design flanking the elaborate arched portal,'' says Darke.

Inside Qalb Lozeh, the similarities are in the pillars dividing the church into three broad aisles - the nave and side aisles - a deliberate echoing of the Holy Trinity, with three sweeping arches resting on broad capitals to spread and distribute the weight which which carried the clerestory windows and the original wooden roof over the nave,'' she adds.

The abandoned church is within a cluster of 40 so-called ''Ancient Villages of Northern Syria'' which  UNESCO has included on the World Heritage List since 2011.

Two years later as fighting ravaged Syria and cultural heritage the villages were placed on UNESCO's list of endangered sites.

UNESCO says the villages including Qalb Lozch - home to pagan temples and ancient churches -illustrate ''the transition from the ancient pagan world of the  Roam Empire to Byzantine Christianity''.

Crusaders Export Design : Qalb Lozeh was built by Syrian Christians whose wealth was based on wine and olive oil  production, says Darke.

The church was frequented by pilgrims and is thought to have been a key stop on the way to the nearby basilica of Saint Simeon the Stylite.

''Merchants, pilgrims and monks moved constantly between the area and Europe over the centuries,'' she says. [Agencies]


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