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From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  3,154 ratings  ·  268 reviews
A rich blend of history and spirituality, adventure and politics, laced with the thread of black comedy familiar to readers of William Dalrymple’s previous work.

In AD 587, two monks, John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist, embarked on an extraordinary journey across the Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. Their aim: to collect the
Paperback, 483 pages
Published 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published April 7th 1997)
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Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In 587 AD, John Moschos and his acolyte Sophronius started on a journey that would take them all across the Byzantine world, exploring the vast lands of Eastern Christianity. Almost 1500 years later, Scottish writer William Dalrymple follows in their footsteps, through a landscape that has been ravaged by time, fate and a succession of different civilisations.

There is something strangely compelling about travel books. Reading about someone else’s journeys can give you the opportunity to join in
As in the previous book I reviewed, a traveler decides to go on pilgrimage. Inspired by the writings of the monk John Moschus (ca. 550-619), William Dalrymple, a Scottish journalist and travel-writer, sets off to retrace the route this pilgrim and his friend Sophronios of Jerusalem had traveled so many centuries before.

Dalrymple's book is an attempt to rediscover the traces of ancient Christian history in the Middle East, some of them surviving in unexpected ways, some of them tragically disappe
Update: For those who enjoyed this book or are interested in the Byzantines, don't miss this CBS News-60 Minutes documentary on the monasteries of Mt. Athos, online at

Most Westerners know little about the varied ancient communities that date back to the great Christian Empire of Byzantium. As I write this review, nearly twenty years after this book was first published, Eastern Christian communities as old as the religion itself are under siege yet again a
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: armchair time travellers, historians and aesthetes
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: Paul Theroux
Shelves: travel-books
Travel is a good thing to do. It broadens your horizons, lets you see all manner of crazy things and frequently allows you to get a tan and wear outlandish clothing which you would under no circumstances wear at home in the midst of your own community ever. The wearing of odd garb and putting together your own eclectic holiday wardrobe is a bit like wearing a disguise. You can meet new people and because of your clothes you can be all "hell yeah, look how alternative/cool/zany/ in-touch-with-the ...more
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travelogue, history
This was a book which came to me from two totally disconnected directions; a recommendation from Shovelmonkey but then almost on the back of her gentle nudge I was given a sharp kick in the pants by the bookshelf elf who is evidently steering my reading habits when this was also given to me quite independently as a good book to read in preparation for my, then, upcoming visit to the Holy Land by a priest friend of mine.

In the event, though I began it before heading Middle-east-side, I did not co
Apr 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Hana has done some fab research into things. Her review here

'Mor Gabriel is an ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery in Southeastern Turkey, founded in 397 AD on the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple. When Dalrymple visited in 1994 the monastery was already under siege. In 2008 Erdogan's government attempted to seize the monastery and its farmland on the pretext that the monks were "occupiers" who had built the monastery on top of a mosque--an especially strange claim since the monastery predates bot
Justin Evans
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
As good as advertised, and perhaps even more so twenty years after publication, given all that has happened in the meantime. If you're not inclined to sadness over lost traditions, you probably won't care, but I almost cried when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddha, and I have literally no social or cultural connection to Buddhism whatsoever, so I was basically free for the taking on this one.
Apr 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most engrossing and moving travel essay I've ever read. Once you read this, you'll want to read everything else Dalrymple has written.
Dhanaraj Rajan
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Four and Half Stars.

I am not sure how to express my feelings. I certainly can not say I enjoyed reading this book. For it narrates the plight of the Christians of the Middle East. It is a travelogue. The author travels in the same route that was taken by two monks in the 6th century. The two monks were John Moschos and his companion Sophronius. They started their journey on foot from their monastery in Palestine the crisscrossing the Christian Byzantium visiting various monasteries on their way.
Selim Oz
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: interest
I think this book is very informative for Westerns who thinks everyone from Middle East is Usama bin Laden however it is very biased on Christianity. It is true that Christians in Middle East do suffer a lot (perhaps as a result of what Christians in the West are doing). However, I didn't enjoy taking this book with me during my tour around the Middle East because in a travel book I don't think every paragraph shouldn't be about how much do the Christians suffer. It should include the culture, e ...more
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
7 MAR 2015 - This book comes very highly recommended by Dear Bettie. A five-star review from hergoodself.

I received a coupon from Barnes & Noble via email. I used the coupon to order this book. I have waited a very long time to read this book (since 2013). Now, I have only to wait 3 days and victory will be mine! I am very excited! Thank you Barnes & Noble.

10 MAR 2015 - my copy is scheduled to be delivered today. HUZZAH! I am very excited.

21 MAR 2015 -- Exquisite! I loved reading this book. I
Steve Walker
A brief mention of the classic "Spiritual Meadows", itself a collection of saying from 7th Century Monks in the Middle East, in Sir Steven Runciman's "History of the Crusades" leads William Dalrymple to replicate
the journey, taken long ago, in the late 20th century. This is the story of that journey and of the story of the decline of the native Christian population of the Holy Lands.
The only other book on this topic that comes close to being this well written is "The Body and the Blood" by Charl
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Dalrymple began his journey from Mount Athos in northern Greece and travelled through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The main reason for his travels was to visit monasteries along the way, which were founded in the late antique and early Byzantine period. He blends travel, history and politics. He reminds us that Christianity is an oriental, eastern religion, something that westerners tend to forget.

Dalrymple undertook his travels in the mid-1990’s and records a rising anti-Christian
Feb 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Very promising beginning which soon detoured into ruminations on geopolitics and along the way found it self stretched in the muddy fields of scripture and doctrine. The geopolitics appears dated, of course, which is no one's fault. The scripture and doctrine appear methodical, which I regard as alarming.

If it wasn't for the encounter with Robert Fisk I would've aborted the book while it was in Lebanon. It is a revealing view into the incestuous proximity between Islam and Christianity, even if
Yigal Zur
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it was the first of his books i read and i was impressed
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religions, 2020, history
Here is travel book from the end of the last century by a writer who is clearly knowledgeable on the matter of early Christian religions in the Levant (The Levant (Arabic: شَام‎, Shām, English /ləˈvænt/) is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. In its narrowest sense, it is equivalent to the historical region of Syria, which included present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. In its widest histori ...more
Nov 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in travel, religion, or the Middle East
This is one of the best travelogues that I have read. Following in the footsteps of a late Byzantine Monk Dalrymple gives a fascinating and all too often heartbreaking view of the Middle East from an entirely new perspective -that of the Greek Orthodox Christians who represent the shattered and scattered remnants of the third major monotheistic religion to come out of the Middle East. Ironies abound. The author uses as his basic "tour guide" the mixture of travel account and collected "miracle t ...more
Alexander McNabb
A wonderful book that tackles an important issue - the decline of Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the marvel of syncretism.

His portrait of Robert Fisk is one of the gentlest and yet meanest filletings I've read in a long time, particularly as our Bob is such a brilliant writer whose moral outrage is so essential a counterbalance to our desire to look the other way.

Richard Thomas
This is an excellent book worth the time needed to take it steadily. It is a fascinating account of the survival of Christianity in the Middle East now made more timeous by events there is Syria and Iraq particularly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the book gives a real perspective to what is becoming a real tragedy.
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I want to review this in more detail later, but for now suffice it to say that this was magnificent. Learned, witty, endlessly interesting - if this is travel non fiction, sign me up for lots more.

Particularly recommended to those who want to learn about indigenous Christianity in the Levant - and not just in the current day.
Good descriptions, excellent narration, terrible explanation of facts. Partial, antijewish, antiwestern, clearly pro muslim, his explanation of the Lebanon War is a prodigy of inaccuracy and bigotry. Full of clichés, such as "islamist extremism is in a good deal the result of Western humiliation of Islam" or "Islam was tolerant with jews and christians". Well, that doesn't seem to explain where did the MILLIONS of christians and jews that inhabited the Middle East go, does it? Was Islam so wonde ...more
Jami Patrick
The idea of this book was great - explore what was Byzantium and see what has become of the Christian heritage. However, I found the author a bit off in his descriptions. I live in Turkey, and although I am a foreigner here, I have never seen evidence of the persecution he mentions. I also felt like he was very intolerant of Islam: he describes his praying driver as "bobbing up and down", or something like that. In the end, I only read the sections on Turkey and Lebanon, the two countries I was ...more
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
This was recommended to me and if Dalrymple is of this quality then I am going to keep reading him.
Laila Kanon
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Book Club Book

(Only a handful in the group took the trouble to finished it.)

This is a story of a man's curiosity to retrace the journey of a Christian holy man by the name of John Moschos which based on his writing: The Spiritual Meadow as a guide in which the holy man visited the Christian sites all across the Byzantine kingdom. It was between amusing, bizarre and what-a-dread kind of read if you don't share the writer's enthusiasm on the subject matter.
I noticed the writer's bias towards the J
Revanth Ukkalam
In Dalrymple's third book, the genres of travel writing, history, journalism, and theology mingle very liberally. What is most conspicuous is his conviction that we are a political animal. When one talks, one talks politics. Especially when one talks about God. John Moschos, the Byzantine Monk whose travels Dalrymple retraces, does that. Dalrymple then simply emulates. The author has a very nuanced approach to the withering of Oriental Christianity and the current and continuous challenges that ...more
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Dalrymple sets out with his backpack, pen and paper and a copy of the book 'The Spiritual Meadow' to travel to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt over six months in 1994, to take a look at the Christian communities that live there and to see what has become of them and their heritage. The inspiration for the journey comes from the book he was carrying, which was written by John Moschos, a sixth century Byzantine monk, who did a somewhat similar journey and recorded his impressions ...more
Chris Ziesler
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Seeking the Oasis

Having previously read Dalrymple's In Xanadu, a book he had written in his early 20s, I had two motivations in reading this book: first of all, I was intrigued to see how his writing had developed over the intervening decade; secondly, I wanted to see if he his idea of following in the footsteps of ancient travelers would work as well with less well known journey than Marco Polo's?

On the first question I can report that his style had broadened and deepened since his earlier book
Nicholas Whyte
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing[return][return]It is a tremendous book. Dalrymple travels through Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt, following the seventhy-century travels of John Moschos, looking for the remaining evidence of Christianity in archtitecture, culture and population. It is a terrifically sad book. Many of the communities he visits were dwindling at the time of writing, in 1994; several of them wonder if they will even still be there in ten years ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this while travelling in Bali, after months of being in Asia and wandering about the power of religion and faith to move people.

This book is a remarkable combination of a travelogue, historical examination of religion and manual on classical art and architecture. It combines the author's interest in following a monk who detailed his travels through the Middle East with a fascination with modern travel and religion and particularly the situation of modern Christians in the Middle East. I
Diane Ramirez
Apr 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Damryple tours the Middle East, seeking Christians in Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. He follows the footsteps of John Moschos, a monk who'd done the same thing 1,500 years earlier, at the beginning of what is the unraveling of the Christian presence in the regions, as Damryple says, much like his tour represents the beginning of the end. It took me much longer to read this book than I thought it would, partly because I needed to slow down to appreciate the exactness of beauty ...more
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years

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The prolific and beloved author John Grisham, known for his courtroom thrillers, is back this month with a new pageturner, A Time for Mercy,...
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“Such are the humiliations of the travel writer in the late 20th century: go to the ends of the earth to search for the most exotic heretics in the world, and you will find that they have cornered the kebab business at the end of your street in London.” 6 likes
“Across the broken apses and shattered naves of a hundred ruined Byzantine churches, the same smooth, cold, neo-classical faces of the saints and apostles stare down like a gallery of deaf mutes; and through this thundering silence the everyday reality of life in the Byzantine provinces remains persistently difficult to visualise. The sacred and aristocratic nature of Byzantine art means that we have very little idea of what the early Byzantine peasant or shopkeeper looked like; we have even less idea of what he thought, what he longed for, what he loved or what he hated.
Yet through the pages of The Spiritual Meadow one can come closer to the ordinary Byzantine than is possible through virtually any other single source.

Dalrymple, William (2012-06-21). From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (Text Only) (Kindle Location 248). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.”
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