Aleppo, Syria – population 1.8 million (estimated)
Vying with Damascus to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world (6,000 years and still counting despite the recent devastation), Aleppo became my favourite from the moment that we met in May 2009.
I had travelled by train from Istanbul to Adana in Turkey and then by road via Antakya and across the border.
It was an epic journey and I totally fell in love with the place thanks to its amazing souk, monumental citadel, unique mosque, fabulous hammam and wonderful courtyards, caravansary, khans and madrasahs.
To embellish it all I took very fondly to the smiling, courteous, inquisitive locals.
It pains me greatly to say that just two years later the troubles started that has seen hundreds of thousands of its citizens killed or displaced due to the vicious civil war aided by Russian warplanes and arsenal.
If you get the chance see the gut-wrenching film ‘For Sama‘, which focuses on a young Aleppo family who somehow survived the brutal conflict. It uses footage shot by journalist Waad al-Kateab of her doctor husband, daughter Sama who was conceived, delivered and adored whilst under regular bombardment and friends and colleagues based in an Aleppo hospital..
Explosive. Disturbing. Heart-Warming.
I will tell my Aleppo story through some pictures of places & people, followed by some after shots showing how iconic constructions have fared during the conflict.
Hotel Baron, Aleppo
Hotel Baron is an iconic colonial style hotel, the oldest in Aleppo.
The likes of Lawrence of Arabia, David Rockefeller, Agatha Christie & Charles de Gaulle have all been residents in the past.
The first floor was completed in 1909, the second in 1911 (see black & white picture below) and third in 1940 as it remained for our wonderful stay.
The hotel was used as a munitions store by Assad’s forces during the conflict making it a legitimate target. Happily however it is largely still standing, despite a few hits. Compare our room when we stayed with a more recent version.
The imposing citadel of Aleppo . was first built in the 3rd Century BC and then extended in the 12th & 16th Centuries.
It has the unenviable history of being the most sacked castle ever and over the centuries it has been occupied by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Sassanids, Ayyubids, Mongols, Mamluks, Ottomans and finally the Syrians.
The view from atop its fortifications was absolutely great.
It has taken several hits during the conflict, but happily has stood up relatively well to the shelling and should be restorable hopefully in the future.
The adjacent Carlton Citadel Hotel has been completely flattened.
The 13th Century covered souk was my absolute favourite such place ever visited and my Aleppo highlight.
What an atmospheric place with activities going on everywhere you looked. Making, mending, bartering, gossiping, laughing, debating, arguing.
The sun shone through gaps in the roof to give a fabulous ambience.
Olive soap was the market speciality – I bought loads! There was of course all things you would expect to find and much commerce was being done.
Regrettably the souk has seen extensive damage, which will be very difficult to restore to former glories.
Sadly I have also read that the fabulous haman based inside the souk has also been flattened. I enjoyed (suffered!) the works there in 2009.
The Great Mosque
Aleppo’s fine mosque was built between the 8th & 11th Centuries on a site where a church had once stood. It is said to hold the remains of Zachariah, father of John the Baptist.
Although beautiful throughout, its most striking feature was the 45 metre high minaret which was completed in 1090.
You will see from the pictures below that it developed a distinct lean as the result of a lightning strike.
More wanton destruction I am afraid and the iconic minaret is sadly no more.
I will leave this post with some general shots of people and places. I pray that this great city can rise again from the ashes. Tragically many innocent citizens have perished and will never ever see that day.