Amidst the rubble of Aleppo
As this observer meanders through the ruins of war-torn Aleppo these days, he develops a feeling that somehow he ought to be wearing a hospital gown with gloves so as not to contaminate crushed ancient artifacts as he tries to avoid stepping on them. One feels obliged to avoid contaminating a cultural heritage crime scene.
It requires a few hours for a fascinating walking tour and briefing of the most damaged 2nd millennium BC ancient city of Aleppo that has sustained more than four years of intense bombardment and jihadist destruction, in order to acquire a sense of what's left and how much of the old city might possibly be significantly restored.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Aleppo has long been the urban, commercial and cultural center of northwestern Syria. Its role as a commercial hub and a trade center and Silk Road route reached its peak during the 16th-18th centuries AD. Given the recent cessation of hostilities in this area, one can now climb up to the Aleppo citadel which rises at least 50 yards above the surrounding area and dates at least to the 10th century BC or earlier as my escort explains. The Aleppo Citadel has changed hands during the war with damage to the remains of Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ayyubid period buildings.
Much of the heaviest damage observed in Aleppo is concentrated in the area immediately south of the citadel. This area contains government buildings, such as the Ministry of Justice headquarters, a police headquarters, and the Grand Serail of Aleppo, which was the main government building in the city under the French Mandate. Other historic structures that were damaged and destroyed include the Hammam Yalbougha an-Nasry (late 15th century), the Khusruwiye Mosque (mid-16th century), and the Carlton Citadel Hotel (19th century). By 14 July 2014, the Carlton Citadel Hotel and several adjacent structures had been completely destroyed, while the Khusriwiye Mosque, the Ministry of Justice building, and the police headquarters had been heavily damaged. Between 14 July 2014 and 10 August 2014, the Khusriwiye Mosque was almost completely destroyed, leaving a crater 40m in diameter where the building formerly stood. Similarly, a second 40m crater eliminated the east wing of the Grand Serail. The dome of the public bathhouse was also destroyed.
Director of the World Heritage Sites department at the DGAM, Lina Qtaifan has commented that photos provided by the local community document that at least 130 properties around Damascus Citadel have sustained damage ranging from partial to full with the southern area opposite the Citadel's gate being the most damaged, including the al-Sultaniya Mosque, Carlton Hotel, al-Shouna Inn, and al-Jdaideh area, which is an old antique district located next to the Old City in Aleppo. Ms. Qtaifan reports that the damage caused to the area around the Citadel is due to recurring terrorist attacks, particularly by digging tunnels and detonating explosives inside them around the citadel and that there are great concerns over the entirety of the Old City, which is listed as being endangered among World Heritage sites. Meanwhile DGAM regularly forwards reports to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others, documenting the damages to cultural heritage sites in Aleppo.
Between 7/19/2012, until 12/20/2016, Aleppo has been at the frontline of the continuing conflict during which government and opposition forces have continued to clash in and around the city. Today, destruction is visible throughout the site. Debris is blown across the area and blocks of structures have been reduced to rubble. Many are large and built with durable materials, such as stone, brick, and mud brick adobe, suggesting intense bombing caused their obliteration. The destroyed structures include historic mosques and madrassas, government buildings, and civilian structures.