Mar Saba is among the most ancient and wondrous desert monasteries in the Holy Land. The monastery has been continuously in service since its founding in the fifth century. The structure has survived natural disasters, pillaging armies and the currents of numerous empires and kingdoms. Though the monastery appears less ancient than it is from the outside as the monastic complex was restored to its present state in 1893, following an earthquake. The large jagged wall around it was originally built after the 7th-century Persian invasion and has kept out intruders ever since; that includes women who have been generally barred from entering Mar Saba’s gates since its beginning.
The monastery offers splendid views over the Kidron Valley and over the maze of cells, stairs, hallways and churches literally wrapped around its central courtyard. The two churches are the Church of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary, where the relic of the body of St. Sabas is kept since being returned from Venice in 1965 (mischievous Crusaders had stolen it a few centuries earlier) and the St. Nicolas Church, built inside the cave from where St. Sabas founded the Monastery and now holding the skulls of monks martyred in the past 15 centuries. Between the churches is a small domed temple holding the tomb of St. Sabas, where he was originally buried.
The strenuous walk without shade from the shrine of Nabi Musa to Mar Saba makes the efforts it took to build such outlets so far out into the wild all the more incredible. Monks got by on the very little vegetation that grows here, living in a desolate landscape that knows no shade or mercy.