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  • 7/9/2003

Aleppo (Halab)

Cradled in a bowl of dry hills in northern Syria, the city of Aleppo presents an austere facade to those entering her ancient gates.
Halfway between the Euphrates and the coast, Aleppo's location made her a natural commercial depot and a busy center of traffic.
The city itself is a central 'old city', a long maze of narrow streets around the magnificent Aleppo Citadel. As you go further away from the Citadel, buildings and roads become more modern until you reach the boundaries of New Aleppo.


The city was inhabited perhaps as early as the 6th millennium B.C and competes with Damascus on being the oldest inhabited city in the world. It appeared in the Hittite archives in central Anatolia and in the archives of Mari on the Euphrates. In the 14th–13th century B.C. it was controlled by the Hittites. Later, Aleppo was a key point on the major caravan route across Syria to Baghdad (Iraq). From the 9th to the 7th century B.C. it was mostly ruled by Assyria and was known as Halman. It was later (6th cent. B.C.) held by the Persians and Seleucids. In 333 BC, Aleppo was taken over by Alexander the Great, and was kept under the Greeks for 300 years in the form of the Seleucid Empire. During this time Aleppo was an important trading city, between the Euphrates and Antioch. Seleucus I (d. 280 B.C.) rebuilt much of the city, renaming it Berea. The city’s commercial importance was enhanced by the fall of Palmyra . In 64 BC Pompey brought Syria under Roman domination. It remained under Roman control in the form of the Byzantine Empire and was a major centre of Christianity, and huge cathedral was built in it (which is still standing) until 637AD, when the Arabs took over in; subsequently, In 944  Aleppo was taken over by the Hamdani's  whose made it virtually independent of the Abbasid Caliphate. Under the first Hamadanid Sayf al-Dawla (who built Aleppo’s famous citadel) the city enjoyed great prosperity and fame in science, literature and medicine, despite this leader’s military ambitions.
It was unfortunate for Sayf al-Dawla that at the end of his reign his Byzantine opponent should have been the capable Emperor Nicephorus Phocas. Successive Greek invasions gave the dynasty no chance to get a secure footing and soon after the Emir's death the brilliance passed away.   In 962 AD it was retaken by the Byzantine Empire and in 1098, it was circled by soldiers from the First Crusade who could not conquer it, but paralyzed its commercial power. It was besieged again in 1124 by another Crusade, and then taken over by Zengi and his successor Nur al Din, and Saladin captured it in 1183, making it his stronghold. At the death of Saladin the Ayyubid dynasty was perpetuated in Aleppo. At the Mameluke period, trade was diverted from Aleppo to the North in Antioch and to the South through Palmyra. But when the Mongol Empire under Hulagu Khan (1260) and by Timur (1401) broke up and some converted to Islam, trade resumed through Aleppo. In 1517 the Ottoman Empire annexed Aleppo, which then became a great commercial city. From 1832 to 1840 it was held by Muhammad Ali of Egypt. In the late 19th cent., Aleppo’s importance declined as Damascus grew and the Suez Canal and other trade routes were developed. The city revived under French control after World War I and Aleppo's trade rose with the arrival of Armenian refugees, who fled the Ottoman massacres. But after France had given Antioch to Turkey, Aleppo lost its Mediterranean outlet.
Nassir Khosraw, the Persian traveller who visited the town as early as 1047, says that customs were then levied there on merchandise to and from the whole Middle East, and that merchants and traders from the surrounding lands restored there.
A Christian traveller at about the same time says that in the cloth bazaar alone goods to the value of 20,000 dinars changed hands daily. Neither was the discovery of the Cape route to India as fatal as might have been expected. The Levant Company and the merchants of Marseilles and Venice, who established the town as the chief depot for European trade at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, maintained a very considerable activity. Even the opening of the Suez Canal was not quite as disastrous for Aleppo as for other caravan cities; the town could still tap the traffic of regions to the north and east which remained comparatively unaffected by the new developments.

Main attractions

Great Mosque (Al-Jami' al-Kabir)


 The site of the Great Mosque is the former Agora from the Hellenistic period, which later became the garden for the Cathedral of St. Helena, during the Christian era.
It was built by the Umayyad Caliph al Walid, who had earlier founded the Great Mosque in Damascus. It was completed in 717 by his successor Caliph Suleiman. Nur al Din later rebuilt it in 1169 after a great fire and the Mamelukes made further alterations. This mosque has an enormous 45-meter minaret, which is completely detached from it, built by the Seljuks in 1070.
Through the main entrance, a large court can be seen with pillared arcades, which are substitutions for the original ones in the Damascus mosque. Another series of arches can be found in the façade of the prayer hall, which were built by the Mamelukes. The façade is well decorated with intricately cut and various colored stones. A composition of white marble and inlaid basalt can be seen on the main door. As for the minbar, which is the pulpit on which the Sheikh stands when preaching, it is very beautifully carved out of wood and probably dates back to the 15th century.
Inside the prayer hall, to the left of the mihrab is a finely tiled chamber that is said to hold the head of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

The Lure of Aleppo


Aleppo Museum


At the museum you will witness, starting at the main entrance, a temple gateway from the Iron Age Neo Hittite settlement in Tell Khallaf. The first hall exhibits statues and cuneiform slates from Mari in the Bronze Age, including some pieces discovered by Agatha Christie's husband, Max Mallowan, at the site of Tell Brak (Tell Khouwayra). Further on, you will find a room containing Bronze Age objects from Hama and Ugarit.

Beyond this, you will find a section devoted to Iron Age materials from sites in the Gezira, and Euphrates. Most are Assyrian style statues. The next hall concentrates on objects found in Aleppo, Ain Dara, and Ebla. On the first floor, there is a part devoted to photographs and various objects from recent foreign expeditions at northern Syrian sites.

There is another hall which is devoted to Modern Art and one devoted to the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. This includes coins, mosaics and glassware. In the final hall, you will find the Islamic art section. Fine pottery, coins, illuminated Korans, a 12th-century astrolabe, and a scale model of Aleppo can all be seen in this room.

Souqs (Old Markets):

 In terms of spaciousness and originality, the covered souqs of Aleppo, which extend for more than 10 kilometres, are the most striking in any Islamic city. The souqs are named after the various crafts: hence, we find the souq of gold, the souq of copper, cotton, etc. Traditionally, there is always a fountain in the centre and sometimes a little garden planted with jasmine and roses. Most of these souqs date back to the 15th century. They are living museum, which depict medieval life.

Commercial Khans (caravanserais):

The Khans are in the same area as the souqs, since they were used for the accommodation of traders and their goods. Their beautiful facades and entrances characterize these Khans; their high arches and portified wooden doors. Some of these Khans are Banadiqa Khan, ‘Banadiqa’ in Arabic being the term of ‘inhabitants of Venice', Jumruk Khan (customs), Wazir Khan (minister) and Saboun Khan (Soap).

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