Aleppo has the status of my favourite city ever visited and as the metropolis that vies with Damascus as the world’s oldest continually occupied settlement of significant size, I have convinced myself that it will rise again from the devastation caused by the civil war that has raged since 2011.
With the attention of the world now focusing on the spread of IS and the migration crisis, it is easy to temporarily forget about the fight between the Assad regime bolstered by Russian assistance and the rebel forces, but the battle is still raging violently, with hundreds of thousands now thought to have died.
Aleppo has suffered badly in the conflict with many of its iconic buildings and the old town souk being badly damaged.
In this post I contrast the iconic structures that I witnessed during my visit there in 2009 with their current state. (All 2009 photos are mine, others are taken from the Internet).
I will start with Aleppo’s most iconic structure, the 13th Century citadel, sat high above the old town.
The citadel was built to protect the city from invaders, but has been used recently by the Assad army as a base from which to fire on rebels.
The fortress was surrounded by a deep but dry moat, the schoolboy in me imagining it full of water and crocodiles in its mediaeval heyday!
In 2009, entrance to the castle was straightforward by way of a concrete slope and through a huge wooden door.
The citadel was still largely in tact in ’09 with stone buildings providing a clue to its years of housing soldiers and their families.
As you would expect the view from the walls was superb, giving a very good picture of Aleppo’s layout, out towards the walled covered souk, the telltale domes of the bathhouses and the surrounding hills.
Over the past few years the citadel has taken a few hits, most recently a destructive bomb in the Summer of 2015. Only after the conflict has finished will we truly know the extent of the damage.
The iconic Carlton Citadel Hotel opposite has fared even worse, being totally demolished.
Next up the ancient hammam known as al-Nahhasin situated within the souk, with its stone structure and honey-coloured wooden interior. We had a brilliant time being cooked, scrubbed, beaten, twisted, pummelled and scrubbed some more.
After it all I felt amazing and watching Hamish being put through the mill during his turn after me was hilarious!
Sadly the building has taken several direct hits during the conflict causing major internal and external damage. I have not found any specific pictures of the after effects of the bombing, but have read in the past that it has been extensive.
The mesmeric Al-Madina souk, the world’s largest covered market which housed the bathhouse, has also sadly taken a devastating battering.
In 2009 we stayed in the iconic Hotel Baron, a colonial style hotel that has been frequented by the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Agatha Christie and Winston Churchill in the past.
Happily it remains undamaged, but no longer accepts guests – it is in fact a munitions store for Assad’s army. Because of this, it could well be a target one day and you can imagine the potential severe consequences of a direct hit with all the bombs and bullets stored there.
My final stop is the 11th Century Great or Umayyad Mosque. In 2009 this beautiful building had its 45 metre high minaret at an angle due to being struck by lightning many years before. The mosque became well know throughout the world due to this unique feature – not quite the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but famous all the same.
Very sadly the unique minaret was reduced to rubble during fighting in 2013 – yet another part of history laid to waste in moments.
We have lost ancient Palmyra almost in totality, the awesome Krak des Chevaliers has been badly damaged, several of the ancient noria (wooden waterwheels) in Hama have suffered hits, as have towns & cities throughout the country.
Many would say that this is nothing compared to the human suffering. I will offer no arguments here against that notion. I am however terribly sad that such world jewels have been or could be lost forever – a crying shame.