Monday, August 09, 2004



Aleppo is one of the Great Middle Eastern cities, a city where one can still find the grandeur of Arabic life of a bygone era. Once the major commercial center of the Orient, it is still vibrant with traders coming from all over the world to buy, sell, barter and haggle in its traditional covered Souks, the newer shopping districts and center-city offices. There are no "tourist" shops in the Aleppo souks; these are still the center of everyday shopping for Aleppo and its suburbs where everything, from djellabas to gold, can be had for a price. Lofty vaulted roofs keep the souk cool in the summer heat, while the age-old ritual of Middle Eastern commerce takes place. Near the Khan al-Sabon is the gold souk, a place of tiny shops, brightly lit and shining with golden bangles, necklaces and earrings.

Settlements in the Aleppo area go back to the 8th millennium BC. The city's name Halab (an Aramaic word for milk) comes from the fable that Abraham is supposed to have milked his flocks on this site. Halab, was the name of the city when it became the capital of the Amorite Kingdom of Yamhad. This city/state was strong enough to control trade between the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

Hittites, Assyrians, Persians and Greeks dominated the city and, after the death of Alexander the Great, Aleppo (renamed Beroia) became an affluent center in the classic Greek style. It almost reached the prominence of Antioch under the Romans and retained its importance with but a few interruptions, until almost the end of the Ottoman Empire. It was considered the third most important city of the Empire, after Constantinople and Cairo, and was the seat of the Governor.

Liberated from Turkish rule in 1918, Aleppo lost its international commercial pre-eminence in 1939 when the French ceded Alexandretta (Aleppo’s historic seaport) to the Turkish Republic.

The Aleppo Citadel is an immense fortification in the very center of the Old City. A fortified site as far back as the first millennium BC, it became the palace of the Hamdanid and Ayyubid rulers. Rebuilt by the Mamelukes after it's destruction by the first Mongol invasion, it was again devastated by Tamerlane's hordes. Its imposing entrance was rebuilt in the 13th century after the first Mongol destruction and reinforced in the 16th century

My favourite is walking through the medieval parts in the old city which is still inhabited whereby I would almost hear the hooves of bygone horses and the conversation of the horsemen.


Hama (Hamath), situated between Homs and Aleppo on the banks of the Orontes rive and almost hallways between Damascus and Aleppo by motorway. It is an important agricultural and industrial center. Except for Damascus, Hama is considered the most picturesque city in Syria because of its attractive gardens along the river banks.

The chief attractions of Hama are the great norias (water-wheels). Originating in Byzantine times, the oldest surviving wheels date from the 13th century. The norias, which all have given names, were used to raise water from the river into aqueducts. As this function is now carried out by electric pumps, the purpose of the wheels today is purely decorative and of historical interest.


Jane said...

Thanks for a wonderful and informative post.

Michael said...

Can you still see traces of the slaughter that took place there in 1982?