In recognition of the historical, civilizational and cultural status of Aleppo, and in celebration of its historical and civilizational monuments which stand witness to an age-old past of which the roots spread to pre-historical times and stretch through Arab and Islamic eras, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation -ISESCO- has dedicated its internet website to celebrate Aleppo as the capital of Islamic culture for the year 1427 A.H./2006 A.D. The aim of this initiative is to shed light on the most prominent features of the cultural heritage and Islamic monuments of this city, boost the awareness of young generations about its importance, provide knowledge about the treasures of its prestigious past, and highlight its civilizational landmarks and cultural legacy.
Through this link, these civilizational landmarks and cultural heritage are brought to the fore by the Islamic Organisation in its drive to participate in reviving the city of Aleppo, preserve its historical landmarks, and document on the internet the most prominent milestones of Islamic civilization in this city. These landmarks still stand proudly today as a testimony to the contribution of Aleppo to the flourishing of Islamic civilization.
This link will remain open in order to be fed with regular updates considering the vastness and diversity of the subject at hand, and be supplied with new data on the civilizational, cultural and Islamic landmarks. This pulpit will serve to inform the whole world about the most important Islamic civilizational landmarks of the city of Aleppo, and endeavour to motivate coming generations into preserving this heritage and transferring it safely into the hands of future generations.
May Allah grant us success.
Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri
Director general of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
The city of Aleppo is located in the north of the Syrian Arab Republic, at a longitude of 36.12 and a latitude of 37.93. Rising 379 meters above sea level, Aleppo enjoys the mild Mediterranean climate marked by short cold and wet winters, and long hot and dry summers. Second largest city in Syria, Aleppo is located 360 kilometres north of Damascus and precedes Greenwich Time by two hours in winter and three hours in summer. Aleppo, which features prominently among cultural capitals as a cultural hub, is made up of the old town which is still surrounded by walls that date back to the Middle Ages, and of the new city.
The plain that holds the city of Aleppo has a geological structure of a predominantly sedimentary nature formed mostly during the second geological age. These sediments are made up mostly of calcium carbonates with varying levels of impurity. This explains the existence of many rock quarries that still provide Aleppo with the materials that distinguish its buildings. The governorate of Aleppo has eight districts: Jabal Samaane, Al Bab, Manbij, Ifrine, Jarabloss, Ain Al Arab, Aazzaz, Assafeera, which are divided into 31 sub-districts, 32 counties, 1453 villages and 1296 farms. Its surface area totals 18482 square kilometres, accounting for 10% of the total area of the Syrian Arab Republic. In terms of size, Aleppo is the fifth largest province of Syria after Hims, Dayr Az Zawr, Alhasaka and Ar- Raqqa. It is also the largest province in terms of population and ranks before Hims, Hamah, Rif Dimashq and Damascus.
Aleppans often tell the story transmitted through the generations of Ibrahim al Khalil, peace be upon him, when he stayed in Aleppo on the way from Uru which he had left seeking the land of the Canaanites (Palestine). It is reported that he settled on one of the high plateaus overlooking the town. He had a grey cow which he milked every morning to feed the people who saw good omens in the milk of the grey cow (Halab Ash-shahbaa), hence emerged the city that was to carry this name.
Historical sources and texts reveal that the name ‘Halab’ was mentioned in tablets that date back to an era long before the time when Ibrahim toured the region- circa 2000 B.C. The name Halab appeared in the tablets of Ugarit, Lakash, Kish and Mari as early as the third millennium before Christianity. It also appeared in Hittite documents in the form of ‘Khalep’, in Egyptian annals as ‘Kharab’ and ‘Khalobo’, and in Akkadian/Caledonian documents as ‘Khallaba’, Khalpo, Khalman, Khalwan and Halaab’.
As to the meaning of the word ‘Halab’, it is said that in Amorite it meant iron and copper. In Sumerian, it is thought to have meant ‘digging’. Specialised archaeological studies state that: ‘Halab appears in the most ancient findings either with or without stress on the second syllable. The stress, however, soon disappeared totally and the three-letter name became predominant and survived throughout the times and among all nations’. Halab has been known as such, or in a closer version for times immemorial. At all times, the three-letter name remained the root of all the derivatives adopted.
The Al Muheet Dictionary says under the word ‘halab’ (mentioned along with the forms: halab, halban and halouban) means the convergence of people from asunder. The dictionary of Ancient Arabic Languages (Semitic Languages) does not differ in this regard from recent ones. Thus, Halab was also synonymous for congregation and convergence since the city was equally the meeting point of the Euphrates and the sea, the Touros Mountain passes, the south of Syria and the road to Egypt.
Le dictionnaire Al Mouhit en donne la définition suivante : le verbe « halaba » signifie « se réunir » et le dictionnaire des langues arabes anciennes (sémitiques) en donne la même signification. Elle serait ainsi un lieu de rassemblement ou carrefour, du fait que la ville est située entre l’Euphrate et la Méditerranée et entre l’Oronte, le sud de la Syrie et la voie menant à l’Egypte.
First- Aleppo in Ancient Times
Aleppo is a life-size museum for the many civilisations that succeeded each other in this land from pre-history to the Arab-Islamic era. It is one of the unique cities that house cuneiform slates and civilisational landmarks that witness to an uninterrupted history of architecture and arts through the ages.
The city of Aleppo is mentioned in many historical records and ancient tablets. Its first mention appears in cuneiform slates and tablets that date back to the mid third century B.C. In the following centuries, the city flourished and its civilisation spread to cover a vast expanse of the earth as building and growth continued down the ages. Clear evidence of this was found in the slates unearthed in the two ancient cities of Ugarit and Mari, and in the finds made at Ebla. Aleppo was also mentioned during the reign of the Akkadian king Rimush, son of Sargon (2530-2515 B.C.), and founder of the first eastern Semitic empire when he invaded Aleppo and took as prisoner its king Lugal. The city enjoyed a period of freedom after his reign, then was seized by the Akkadian Naram Sin (2507-2452 B.C.) who renamed it (Halababa and Araman). Aleppo lived its golden age under the rule of the Babylonian Hammurabi and of Zimrilim, king of Mari circa 2000 B.C. When the Hittite invaded the region, Aleppo resisted for a long time before falling in their hands in 1820 B.C. But the city was liberated from their rule in 1650 B.C. at which time it forged an alliance with the Mitannians. Later on, Aleppo came under the rule of the Egyptians, having been conquered by Tuhutmos III, Egypt’s pharaoh (1473 B.C.). Then it became a capital for the Hittites (1370 B.C.) and renewed the treaty with the Mitannians. The city wavered for a long time between Hittite and Mitannian ascendancy but remained Hittite until 1200 B.C., date of the disintegration of the Hittite State.
After the emergence of the Assyrians, Syria was annexed by them after its effortless conquest by by Shalmaneser III (853 B.C.). It remained in this state until its conquest by Saro Dari III, although it was soon recovered by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser in 743 B.C. After the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, Aleppo fell in the hands of the Babylonians (612 B.C.). Less than a century later, Aleppo was conquered by the Persians who developed it, building caravanserais along the road, digging wells, and building dams to expand the perimeter of irrigated lands. After the famous Issus Battle (333 B.C.) led by Alexander the Macedonian, Aleppo came under the rule of the Macedonians who began their rule with pillage and looting immediately after the invasion. But this era was short-lived and the Greeks soon turned to building and development. At the end of the Seleucid rule, corruption and decadence spread and the Romans took over as of 64 B.C. The Roman era was marked by the spread of Christianity in Syria and the growing importance given to the building of Christian places of worship. In 540 A.D., Chosroes I invaded Syria and set Aleppo alight. Peace was again negotiated between the people of Aleppo and Hercules in 630 A.D., after which building flourished and fortified cities emerged along the borderlines of the Roman countryside.
Second: History of Aleppo during Islamic Eras
The troops of Arab and Islamic conquest advanced to cover all the far-flung regions of the vast Arab and Islamic world, reaching the city of Aleppo in 637 A.D. when Khalid Ibn Al Waleed penetrated the city through the Antakya Gate at the head of a Muslim army. It did not take long for the conquering Arabs to spread the Arabic language in northern Syria (Aleppo) where the spoken language, Assyriac, was not too different from Arabic. After the Islamic conquest, Aleppo underwent the following rules and eras:
1- The Caliphate Era (16-222 A.H. /636-836 A.D.)
Aleppo did not reach its apogee during the rule of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, nor during that of the Umayyad and the Abbasids. But towards the end of the Abbasid Rule, the city experienced a period of prosperity and cultural, intellectual and civilisational radiance that extended to all fields. The Aleppans reached excellence in clothes making, and in the building of palaces and famous mosques.
2- Post-Caliphate Era (223-532 A.H. /837-1128 A.D.)
Aleppo acquired fame in Arab history when it became the seat of Sayf Addawla Al Hamadani who recaptured its glory and made it the state’s capital, prosperous in art, science and poetry, to such extents that he was described in some historical records as the man at whose door congregated the masters of poetry and iconoclasts of the time in numbers unequalled by any other king. Sayf Addawla held in generous esteem poets, writers and scholars among whom were the poets Abu Firas Al Hamadani and Abu Tayyeb Al Mutanabbi. The latter, who was the poet of the Hamdanid court, describes the city of Aleppo saying:
Whenever gardens welcomed us
We said Halab is our destination
And you are the path thereto
The city of Aleppo expanded to include Kelikiya, Malatya, Diarbekir, Antioch, Tarsus, Mardin, and Roum Qal’a. But the defiance of Sayf Addawla of the Romans, his constant resistance and his numerous raids on Roman territories led the Romans to siege Aleppo in 353 A.H. , raid it and burnt it down, leaving it desolate after all its inhabitants were either killed or enslaved. When Sayf Addawla returned to Aleppo to find it in that state, he rebuilt the walls and some of its buildings, and brought the people of Qisrin to settle there. After his death, Aleppo wallowed for two centuries in a state of anarchy and confusion. It was successively ruled over by the Fatimids and the Mirdassids, experienced the growing Turkish power, and then the rule of the Seljuks. During the same era, Aleppo was brought under the control of the Romans then the Crusaders who invaded Aleppo in 1108 A.D. This state of anarchy only came to an end when Imad Eddine Zengi became the prince of Aleppo.
3- The Nurid State (523-579 A.H. /1128-1260 A.D.)
Aleppo became the centre of Islamic resistance against the Franks under Prince Imad Eddine and his son Nur Eddine Mahmud. Conditions in Aleppo began to improve, only for the whole town to be destroyed by the 1170 earthquake. In the wake of the earthquake, Nur Eddine carried out major building projects within the city, rebuilt the walls and the citadel to which he gave its final shape. After the death of Nur Eddine, Aleppo was ruled over by his son, then came into the hands of Salah Eddine El Ayyoubi who appointed his brother as its governor, then his son, King Al Zahir Ghazi who was one of the greatest kings and reformers. He rebuilt its walls and fortifications and made it the seat of his court.
4- The Ayyubid Rule (579-659 A.H. /1183-1260)
The Ayyubid era constitutes the apogee of the city of Aleppo in the Middle Ages. One of the most renowned kings of this era was Ghazi Ibn Salah Eddine who managed, thanks to his wisdom, to protect the city from the evils of the Franks. Furthermore, he concluded many trading treaties with Antioch and Venetia conferring great glory and fame on the city of Aleppo under his rule. This golden era came to an end in 1260 A.D. with the Mongol sacking which followed after a few days of siege. The city suffered a week of bloodshed, looting and fires while Hulako converted mosques into churches. In 1400 A.D., the Mongols were evicted from Aleppo after being defeated by the Mamelukes in Ain Jalout and Hims. King Ashraf Sayf Eddine Qalawoun restored the city and the citadel but the Mongols soon returned to Aleppo and invaded it under Tamerlane in 1401 A.D./804 A.H. They set the fire to it and destroyed it again, but their stay was not long as the city was recovered by the Mamelukes who restored it and ruled over it until 922 A.H. /1516 A.D.
5- The Mameluke Era (659-922 A.H. /1260-1516 A.D.)
Aleppo became a governorate of the Mamelukes after the retreat of the Mongol menace. Among the most prominent Mameluke rulers was Sultan Qaitibay who took great interest in building and edification and left behind many monuments such as the Firdaws Mosque and Khan Saboun. The Mameluke era accounts also for many other Islamic edifices such as Khan A1 Qasayba (Khan Abrak) and Khan Khayer Bek.
6- The Ottoman Era: (922-1337 A.H. /1516-1918 A.D.)
Aleppo came under Ottoman rule after the battle of Marj Dabiq. It remained under their control until 1247 A.H. /1831 A.D. when it was seized by Ibrahim Basha Ibn Mohammed Ali, pasha of Egypt. Aleppo remained under Egyptian control until 1256 A.H. /1840 A.D. when the Ottomans reclaimed it and ruled over it until the 1st World War at which time the Allies helped place it under the rule of Faical Ibn Al Hussein. Along with other Syrian cities, Aleppo was annexed to French rule from 1920 to 1946 A.D. when Syria obtained its independence. Throughout the Ottoman period, Aleppo experienced a great literary, artistic and architectural renaissance. It was marked by the emergence of a unique architectural decoration art that reached its apogee in this era and is manifest in the residences and palaces located in modern day Al Farafira and Saliba quarters. These buildings embody Syrian artistic traditions that date back to the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries A.D. These include vast beautifully tiled courtyards usually with a small garden and a pond at the centre of which stone fountains rise, and recess-like lounges facing north and protected from sunrays, in addition to the main domed and pillar-supported iwans.
7- French Occupation and Independence (1920-1946 A.D.)
Aleppo enjoyed a period of short-lived but false independence between 1918 and 1920 when France imposed its League of Nations Mandate and decreed a comprehensive protectorate over Syria after General Gouraud entered Damascus in 1920. The period from 1920 to 1946 was marked by revolutions and national uprisings which all came to an end with independence and liberation from all forms of foreign control. Since independence and to date, Syria has been following the Arab Islamic course and participating, along with its sister countries, in edifying the Arab and Islamic renaissance.
The Citadel of Aleppo
The Aleppo Citadel is one of the most beautiful landmarks of this Syrian city in view of its unique architectural style. One of the oldest and largest citadels in the Islamic world, it rises at the top of a hill right at the heart of Aleppo. The citadel was built on an elevation of which part is natural and the other part is man-made. Probably the core of the ancient city and the Greek Acropolis, it was turned into a fortified citadel during the Byzantine Era. Archaeological finds at the Citadel date back to the Arameans who lived in the tenth century B.C. These relics are preserved either at the Aleppo Museum or at the Citadel’s museum. During the Greek era, the Tell became the city’s acropolis and remained as such until its conquest by the Arab Muslims under the leadership of Khalid Ibn A1 Waleed. It is reported that this conquest was made possible by a group of Arab soldiers (fidaiyyine) who donned goat skins and advanced to the Citadel looking from afar like a herd of goats grazing at the foot of the hill while the Romans indulged in drunken festivities and revelling, the fidaiyyine killed the gate keepers and opened the gates after lighting fires as a signal to the other forces who entered the citadel and evacuated all its troops and inhabitants. Muslim Arab rulers settled in Aleppo and its stronghold which repelled the attacks of Romans, Mongols and Tartars. It was first used by Sayf Eddine Al Hamadani, then the Mirdassid, the Sinjars and Ridwan Ibn Tutush who restored it. But it was the Ayyubids who built it as it stands today.
In his travels, Ibn Jubayr described the citadel of Aleppo saying: ‘It has a citadel renowned for its strong fortifications, rising high, unequalled and unparalleled by any other fortress, so immune as to be impossible to reach by projectiles or to conquer… With a solid and wide foundation, like a circular stretching table with carved sides, erected at the right angle and degree… So exalted be he who devised it and built so well and spared no effort in its design and conception, old like age, yet new, vanquishing days and years and satisfying the public and the private’.
The city of Aleppo surrounds a 61 meter-high elevation that overlooks the city from all angles. There is little doubt that this Arab Islamic Citadel, one of the most famous in the world, was erected on the ruins of many other fortresses as heights constituted the safest location for housing the fortified seats of the governments of Aleppo throughout its long history.
The main parts of the citadel were built during the rule of King Al Zahir Ghazi, son of Salah Eddine El Ayyoubi who was appointed as its governor by his father in 1190 A.D. He fortified its gateway and paved its glacis, digging a moat all around the hill. Inside its walls, he built a mosque and a number of palaces. His wife, Daifah Khatun, who became queen of Aleppo, resided in one of these palaces and was buried there.
The Citadel rises about forty meters above the level of Aleppo. Its towers and walls, some of which date back to the era of Nur Eddine Zengi, are still proudly standing. The Citadel is surrounded by a thirty-meter deep moat and access to the Citadel can be gained through a huge gate leading into a rectangular defence tower. This tower stretches into the main entrance of the citadel after which there is a long corridor ending with an enormous iron-studded gate above which can be spotted openings for the pouring of burning liquids and arrow-throwing. The gate dates back to the era of Khalil Ibn Qalawoun who repaired and restored it. Above the gate is a stone bridge over the length of which can be seen engravings representing two snakes with dragon heads. After crossing the entrance, one reaches another corridor along which three gigantic lounges are lined up. In the lounge to the north, a door giving onto a staircase leads to the Defence Hall. The Citadel has a fourth wooden gateway above which a lintel sports the engravings of two lions facing each other. After crossing the gateway, one comes across a number of raised platforms alongwith rooms and storage areas. Then one reaches the Citadel’s internal passageway where a number of buildings and shops can be seen, and where a staircase leads onto the royal palace.
If one walks further, one reaches the Mosque of Ibrahim Al Khalil which was built by the Assalih Ismail Ibn Mahmud Ibn Zengi in 536 A.H./1179 A.D. At the entrance of the mosque and on its walls can be seen old descriptions saying ‘It was a church converted into a mosque known as the lower shrine of Ibrahim A1 Khalil’. In this place is a stone, often visited, and reputed to have been used as a bench by Ibrahim Al Khalil. Further down is another mosque with a high square-shaped minaret built during the era of king Al Zahir Ghazi Ibn Salah Eddine El Ayyoubi. Not too far from this mosque, which has recently been restored, can be seen the military barracks built during the rule of the Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha in 1252 A.H./1834 A.D.
In the middle of the hill is a large hall that is reached by a 70-step staircase below ground level. This hall was used for the storage of grains and animal feed. Of the palaces still standing today is the mansion of Yusuf II, grandson of Ghazi, decorated inside with beautiful moqarnass, and in front of which spreads an esplanade tiled in small colourful tiles that display a beautiful geometrical design. From the palace one can reach the Throne Hall accessed from a coloured stone gate fashioned with a moqarnass upper part below which can be read historical inscriptions. The hall was built in the Ayyubid Era inside the two towers of the main entrance. Then it was completed and restored during the Mameluke reign. In 1960, new wooden and stone decorations were added on. One of the most beautiful openings of this hall is a window decorated with arabesque designs through which can be seen the city of Aleppo stretching away from the Citadel entrance. The facades of the external hall were decorated with geometrical stone engravings and strips of inscriptions in Arabic of which the most eloquent reads: ‘Say Each One is Unique’. Under the Throne Hall is the Defence Hall of which the walls are spotted with openings for arrow-throwing, and other openings for pouring burning liquids to repel attackers and raiders. The Citadel of Aleppo was raided by the Mongols under Hulako in 658 A.H./1260 A.D. who destroyed many of its landmarks after promising to protect it if it surrendered. The citadel was freed after the victory of Muslims over the Mongols in the battle of Ain Jalout and King Al Ashraf Qalawoun restored the parts that had been torn down. Then Tamerlane arrived in 803 A.H./1400 A.D. and destroyed both the citadel and the city which were then liberated and restored by the Mamelukes. The Ottomans took control of Aleppo in 923 A.H./1516 A.D., followed in 1831 A.D. by Egypt’s Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Ali Pasha under whose rule the city remained until 1257A.H. /1840 A.D.. During which time he used the Citadel as headquarters for his army. Since 1950, the General Directorate of Syrian Antiquities has been conducting restorations and renovations in the Citadel.
The wall of the Aleppo Citadel follows the curves of the hill and is intersected by towers of which some are square and the others circular. The wall rises at a height of twelve meters and is fashioned out of huge stones. Both the wall and the towers date to the Arab era starting from the twelfth century and on to the 16th century A.D., as can be deduced from the inscriptions that are still visible today. The wall of the Citadel has two layers in most sections and was destroyed on several occasions. Some of its sections are still in ruins and await restoration. As for the towers, the most important ones are the elevated entrance tower and the gateway tower preceding the bridge. In the opposite direction, a huge southern tower rises above the glacis of the stone-laid moat. This beautiful tower was built by the Mameluke king Jakam, then it was renovated by Sultan Qansoua Al Ghuri in 926 A.H./1518 A.D. according to an inscription on one of its walls. To reach this tower, one must take a staircase that leads from the glacis of the moat up to the walls of the citadel, and on to a secret door that King Al Zahir Ghazi used to leave the Citadel for the Justice Palace. Behind the secret door is a bathroom hall before which is a passage tiled in stones that form geometrical designs. The passage leads to a courtyard at the centre of which is a pool. The northern wall of the courtyard still bears the signs of water taps. In the opposite direction of this huge southern tower is an identical one facing north. This tower was also renovated and restored by the Mameluke Sultan Qansoua Al Ghuri.
The Great Mosque of Aleppo:
The Great Mosque of Aleppo was built on the same lines as the Damascus Mosque which was built during the caliphate of Suleiman Ibn Abdelamalek. It was demolished several times, the first being when the emperor Nicephorus raided and destroyed the city of Aleppo, and the last one at the hands of Tamerlane. It was rebuilt during the Mameluke Era and the oldest part of it is its magnificent minaret, a square-shaped edifice built in 1090 A.D. It is also famous for its wooden pulpit made out of ebony and inlaid with ivory, fashioned during the reign of Sultan El Nasser Mohammed Ibn Qalawoun in the 8th A.H./14th A.D. century.
Aleppo also houses many mosques such as the Atroush Mosque with its carved stone façade built by the Mamelukes. The Khasrawiyyeh, Addiya and Al-Bahramiya mosques, built all of them during the Ottoman epoch in the 10th A.H./16th A.D. century, represent the Ottoman architectural art with their small domes and the Qashani tiles that adorn their walls.
Aleppo’s Historical Madrassas
The Chazbakhtiyeh School
This school was built by Prince Jamal Eddine Chazbakht, on an instruction from Nur Eddine Mahmud in 589 A.H./1193 A.D. at the main entrance located in front of the Qibla hall. Once it was completed, Prince Jamal Eddine Chazbakht invited the scholar Najm Eddine Muslim Ibn Salama from Singar to teach there. The school is located in the market known as Souq Al Izab and is today known as the Maarouf Mosque.
The Juwaniyyeh School
Building works of the Juwaniyyeh or Sultaniyeh School, one of the two-hall schools of Aleppo, were started by King Al Zahir Ibn Salah Eddine, but he passed away in 163 A.H. before completing it. It stayed unfinished after his death until Shihab Eddine Tughrul Beg, or King Al Aziz, resumed building works and completed them in 620 A.H/1223 A.D. The school catered to followers of both the Chafiite and Hanafite rites. Judge Bahaa Eddine Ibn Shaddad taught there and the school was headed by Judge Zayn Eddine Abu Mohammed Abdullah Al Asadi, chief magistrate of Aleppo.
The Kawakibiyeh School
A disciple of Al Kawakibi, Ahmed Ibn Abi Saoud Al Kawakibi, who was born in Aleppo in 1130 A.H /1718 and died on 21 Shaabne 1197 A.H./ 22 June 1782 A.D., decided to build a school to teach the Arabic language and other sciences that did not clash with the official ban on Arabic teaching, and following a method named after the Kawakibi family. He named the institution the Kawakibiyeh School and engraved the name on its façade. Followers of the Kawakibiyeh School studied there at the hands of their family members and other scholars of the city. Its founder served at the same time as a mufti and elder of the notables of Aleppo. The last person to have studied and taught there was Abdurrahman Al Kawakibi who studied at the hands of his father Ahmad Al Bahaii, mufti of Aleppo, and other teachers.
The Souks of Halab:
Aleppo is known for a myriad of markets named after the tradesmen and craftsmen who people them and the city. Thus, we can find the Nahassin market (copperware), the Attarine market (spices), the Haddadine market (blacksmiths), the Bunn market (coffee), the Jimal market (camels), the Harir market (silk), the Hassarine market (mats’ weavers), the Khabiya market (pottery), the Khashabine market (carpenters), and Al Khodariyya market (green market). One can also find the Khayl market (horses), the Zajjajine market (glass blowers), the Sabbaghine market (material dying craft), the Sarmaytiyya, also called the Al Qawafakhana where the Aleppan traditional shoes known as sarmaya, usually yellow or red, are made and sold. There is also the Soyyagh market (jewellers). Aleppo used to have two jewellery markets but there are many other markets today. One of the outcomes of the thriving trade was the proliferation of caravanserais (khans) for which Aleppo is renowned. There is Khan Assabil, Khan Al Harir, Khan Istanbul and Khan Shorbaji. The large number of khans in Aleppo is a clear sign of a flourishing trading activity.
Al Matbakh Al Ajami: the vestiges of this old palace dating back to 6th century A.H/12th century A.D. and located next to Khan Al Wazir in Aleppo, are considered marvels of architecture. The palace’s halls and moqarnass decorations are remnants of an art that flourished during the rule of the Seljuks and their atayeks.
The Bimaristan Arghun (asylum): this is one of the major asylums still standing in the Greater Syria. It is a living example of the asylums that were replaced by hospitals today. A significantly important edifice in terms of planning and architecture, it was built inside Bab Qisrin by the deputy governor Arghun Shah in the year 8 A.H./14 A.D. Another asylum, this one older, exists in Aleppo and was built during the era of Nureddine in Al Jalloum but it is slightly in ruins.
Il compte parmi les plus importants bimaristans (hôpitaux) qui existent encore en Mésopotamie. Il était l’équivalent des hôpitaux de notre époque. Il s’agit d’un édifice présentant un intérêt particulier de par son plan, son art et son architecture. Il fut érigé à la commune Bab Kinsarine par le représentant du sultanat, Argoun Shah durant le 8-ème siècle de l’hégire (XIV°). Il existe un autre bimaristan plus ancien, édifié sous le règne de Noureddine dans la commune Jaloum, dont une partie est tombée en ruines.
Walls and Gates
Similar to most Eastern cities, Aleppo still sports its protective walls and imposing gateways. The wall encircling the city was destroyed several times during the Roman and Tartar raids that targeted the city but was restored. The walls still standing today date back to the Ayyubid and Mameluke eras. Most important gateways that have survived include: Bab Annassr, Bab Al Hadid, Bab Antakya and Bab Qinnesreen.
The Museum of Aleppo is considered one of the most important specialised museums in the world in view of the pre-Christian historical relics housed in its wings. The museum was built in 1931 to host the archaeological finds discovered in Tell Halaf and Ras Al Ain. This explains the façade of the museum fashioned to resemble the entrance of the royal palace of Tell Halaf dating back to the ninth century B.C. The original façade is preserved at the Berlin Museum.
The museum contains the relics and pieces discovered in the north of Syria and the Euphrates divided over a number of wings and sections. The Ancient East Hall, dedicated to pre-history, is currently being used as an exhibition hall for artistic paintings and is open to the public every Sunday at six in the afternoon. Among its treasures are Stone Age tools and other ancient relics discovered in the Gizira hills in locations such as Tel Brak, Shaghar Bazar and Aswad where the archaeologist Max Mallowan, husband of the mystery author Agatha Christie, conducted excavations in the thirties. During these excavations, Mallowan unearthed cuneiform tablets from the third and second millennium B.C.
The Mari Hall contains extraordinary slates discovered by Andre Parrot in Tell Hariri in 1933 and dating back to the second millennium B.C., as well as the famous Yanbu goddess. The hall dedicated to Ugarit tells the tale of the discovery of the oldest alphabet in the world dating back to the fourteenth century B.C. On display at the Hall of Hama are the slates discovered by Danish archaeologists in Hama and that date back to the second millennium B.C. The Tell Halaf Hall contains the finds of the missions of Openheim from 1911 to 1929. Half of the displays are original pieces while the other half are copies of which the originals were taken to Berlin. All of these artefacts date back to the era of the Arameans and to the ninth century B.C.
Then there is the Arsalan Tash Hall famous for its small etchings in ivory from the first millennium B.C. The Tell Ahmar Hall, on the other hand, is known for its wall mosaics from the first millennium B.C. Another wing contains a chest holding the finds made in Tell Khouwayra west of Ras Al Ain where the archaeologist Anton Moortgat carried out excavations, and statuettes and other artefacts from the third and second millennium B.C. It also houses other finds such as the 8th century B.C. statue of the Safeera warrior, the statues of the goddess Ishtar from Ain Dara, near Ifrine, and a whole set of flat and cylinder seals. The last hall is dedicated to the Ebla Kingdom discoveries made at Tell Mardikh with their archive. The pieces on display in this section date back to the two eras of apogee 2400-2225 B.C. and 1800-1200 B.C., and include limestone slates, offertory basins and sacrificial stones, as well as drawings found at the Tell and images of the excavation sites.
On the first floor, one hall is dedicated to the finds and discoveries made in the Euphrates and houses twenty cabinets containing selected pieces from the hills which were submerged in the lake of the Euphrates Dam and date back to the fourth, third and second millennia B .C. Other displays in this hall cover other historical eras and the various Arab Islamic and Arab reigns. Prominent among these hills is Tell Maribet where the oldest house ever inhabited by the civilised human being after the caves, and dates back to the ninth millennium B.C. Equally important is Tell Habbouba where were discovered the oldest drainage limestone aqueducts from the fourth millennium B.C. Hills of equal importance include Tell Qannas, Tell Emar, Tell Maskana, and Dabsi Faraj. The classical wing contains finds from the Hellenistic era, predominantly ceramics, from the Roman Era such as gravestones and mosaics, and Byzantine pieces such as funerary monuments and various coins. The Museum’s Arab and Islamic antiquities wing contains diverse pieces including jugs, manuscripts, ceramics and glass utensils from various Islamic and Arabic eras, and also some manuscripts and deeds from the Mameluke era, in addition to an Islamic headstone with beautiful calligraphy from the 12th century A.D., and various Arab and Islamic mint pieces. One room in this section houses the exquisite roof of Sader’s house with its decorations and inscriptions that date back to the 18th century, as well as rare carpets. This hall also houses a miniature model of Aleppo within its walls.
The modern art wing of the Museum, created in 1974, displays paintings and sculptures made by Aleppan and Syrian artists such as Fathi Mohammed, Fatih Al Modarris, Louay Kiali and others. The Museum has an internal garden where can be seen basaltic statues of the god Hudu and Tishop, Hittite hieroglyphic writing, and some Roman statues and mosaics from the third century A.D. depicting hunting scenes. The courtyard in front of the Museum entrance displayed old pieces from the various Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Islamic eras. These include a basaltic stela depicting two winged men in movement around the moon and the sun which was found in the Hittite shrine inside the Aleppo Citadel and dates back to the ninth century B.C. One of the antique marvels displayed at the museum is the 3rd millenium B.C. statue of Ambushad, master writer in Mari, and the steatite vase, the 2nd millenium B.C. statue of a god in golden bronze from Misyad, and a stela depicting a seated god believed to be El and standing before him is the king of Mari from the 2nd millennium B.C., a 9th century B.C. mythical scene etched on a basaltic slate from Tell Halaf, the statue of a winged creature in basalt, also from Tell Halaf, and the another basaltic statue of a lion from Arsalane Tash dating back to the 9th or 8th century B.C., a basalt stela from Ain Dara dating back to the 9th century B.C., the statue of the Phoenician god Melgart dating back to the 9th century B.C., and many other pieces.
The city of Aleppo also houses the university which was opened in 1960, many churches and the European missionary schools, as well as four important cultural centres and eighteen others in its countryside.
Aleppo: A Travellers’ Destination
Aleppo has been a choice destination for travellers and orientalists since it was first visited by Aistotle in search for treatment for a disease that had affected him. Aleppo attracted most known Arab travellers such as Yaqout Al Hamawi, Ibn Jubayr, Ibn Battouta, Al Maqdisi and Al Humayri. The great French Poet Lamartine spent an important part of his life in the Writers’ quarter in Aleppo. There he wrote his most famous poems, including the poems dedicated to La Jorelle who lived with him along with her sister Molinari who also dabbed at poetry in Arabic. Among the other travellers who visited Aleppo in the 16th and 17th centuries and wrote about it was Darmand, Le Mans, Raoulf, Dandini, Tavisier, Newberry, Buckok and many others.
Reviving the City of Aleppo
The old city of Aleppo is a world –renowned universal heritage site. Its surface area, made up of 355 hectares of traditional architectural fabric, its 110 000 inhabitants, and the 35 000 daily jobs effected there witness to the heritage of one of the old surviving cities of history. UNESCO classified this city as a historical site in view of its great human heritage worthy of protection and preservation. The city has more than 150 important monuments that represent various human civilizations and political eras it witnessed. In 1978, Aleppo was entered in the official archaeological records and an annotation was registered on real estate records banning any demolitions or alterations of its landmarks or character even by its own municipality, unless authorised by the antiquities authorities. Foreign travellers and consuls residing in Aleppo described it as one of the most exquisite and cleanest cities of the Ottoman Empire and hailed its beautiful weather. They described its inhabitants as the most civilised and refined of all populations under Ottoman rule, hospitable and bestowing unadulterated affection on their guests, and described Aleppo as the largest and richest city of the Ottoman Empire after Constantinople and Cairo. In 1992, the German government (GTZ/MBZ) participated along with the Syrian one (municipal council of Aleppo) in launching a project for the renovation of the old city of Aleppo.
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