With the Syrian army deep inside Aleppo's old city
This observer has long sought an extended visit to the old city of Aleppo which is also one of this cradle of civilizations cultural and educational centers. Despite being in a continuing war zone, the visit materialized when security authorities granted permission and assistance to this observer to complete research finalizing more than two years of research across Syria on the subject of Syria's Endangered Heritage: The Story Of A Nations Fight To Preserve Its Cultural Heritage.
Several visits to damaged archeological sites and quality briefings soon turned a few days into more than a week with more than a two dozen detailed evaluations and analyses during meetings with Syrian nationalists among them, M.B. Shabani, Director of the Aleppo National Museum. Another was with Professor of Islamic Science, Bouthania Chalkhi and a group of her faculty colleagues and researchers at Aleppo's 80,000 plus student university. Aleppo University, like nearly all of Syria's institutions of higher learning has paid a bitter price for keeping its classrooms open. On January 15 2013 the School of Architecture was shelled and more than 90 students and visitors on campus were killed. By shocking coincidence, Damascus University's School of Architecture was similarly shelled only five weeks later on March 28, 2013, killing more than 15 students.
Two military commanders, currently
with their troops deep inside the old city near the ancient Citadel, seemed
more like college philosophy instructors than military men, as they discussed
the massive destruction inside the old city including more than 1,600 khans and
This observer and another American, a special young man from Maryland who is studying Arabic in this region, was guided along with two colleagues on a long nighttime tour and briefing among alleys inside the ancient burned out and blasted medina souk. Sometimes as we paused our army guide would comment on how parts of the souk might be salvageable and how he felt anger at what was wantonly inflicted in the area now under his command. Our military escort advised us that our tour of the remains of this UNESCO World Heritage site was the first such visit allowed since its destruction more than 18 months ago. He even joked that nearly a month ago a team with the BBC was offered a more limited tour but that a famous female BBC Middle East correspondent, one of this observers favorites, turned back after penetrating the warrens by less than 50 yards.
Surely not the first or last time that Yankees have followed up Brits to complete a task, our interpreter from Damascus giggled.
For hours we trudged through the
widely reported massive destruction observing the burned detritus of what were
formerly historic "khans" which for centuries traded and sold specialty items
as noted below. The tour left one in numbed disbelief over the extent of the
Among the most historic souks in Aleppo's old city, verified by this observer as having been destroyed on 9/29/2012, all within the burned out covered alleyways of Souk al-Madina, include, but are not limited to the following. This partial list is presented as a condolence to Syrian artisans and citizens whose lives have been deeply, negatively, and irreversibly damaged. Wanton destruction of a significant part of the shared global heritage of us all.
- Khan al-Qadi, one of the oldest khans (specialized souk areas) in Aleppo dating back to 1450;
- Khan al-Burghul (Bulger), built in 1472 and the location of the British general consulate of Aleppo until the beginning of the 20th century;
- Souk al-Saboun (soap khan) built in the beginning of the 16th century was the main center of the soap production in Aleppo;
- Souk Khan al-Nahhaseen (coppersmiths), built in 1539. The general consulate of Belgium was at this location during the16th century. Before its destruction it including more than 80 traditional and modern shoe-trading and production shops;
- Khan al-Shouneh, built in 1546 was a market for trades and traditional handicrafts of Aleppine art;
- Souq Khan al-Jumrok or the customs' khan, was a textile trading center with more than 50 stores. Built in 1574, Khan Al-Gumrok was considered to be the largest khan in ancient Aleppo;
- Souk Khan al-Wazir, built in 1682, was the main souk for cotton products in Aleppo;
- Souk al-Farrayin was the fur market, is the main entrance to the souk from the south. The souk is home to 77 stores mainly specialized in furry products;
- Souk al-Hiraj, traditionally was historically the main market for firewood and charcoal. Until its destruction it reportedly included 33 stores mainly dealing in rug and carpet weaving and products;
- Souk al-Dira', was perhaps the main center for tailoring and one of the most organized alleys in the souk with more than 60 workshops;
- Souk al-Attareen for more than a century was the vast herbal market and in fact was the main spice-selling market of Aleppo. Before its destruction it was a textile-selling center with more than 80 stores, including spice-selling shops;
- Souk az-Zirb, was the main entrance to the souk from the east and the place where coins were being struck during the Mamluk (18th century) period. All of its 72 shops featured textiles and the basic needs of the Bedouins;
- Souk al-Behramiyeh, located near the Behramiyeh mosque had more than 20 stores trading in foodstuffs;
- Souk Marcopoli (derived from Marco Polo), was a center of textile trading with 29 stores.
- Souk al-Atiq specialized in raw leather trading with 48 outlets;
- Souk as-Siyyagh or the jewelry market was the main center of jewelry shops in Aleppo and Syria with more than 100 outlets located in 2 parallel alleys.
- The Venetians' Khan, was home to the consul of Venice and the Venetian merchants.
- Souk an-Niswan or the women's market, was an area where accessories, clothes and wedding equipment's of the bride could be found;
- Souk Arslan Dada, is one of the main entrances to the walled city from the north. With 33 stores, the souk is a center of leather and textile trading;
- Souk al-Haddadin, is one of the northern entrances to the old city. Located outside the main gate it was considered to be the old traditional blacksmiths' market with more than 40 workshops;
- Souk Khan al-Harir (the silk khan) was another entrance to the old city from the north and was buiit in the second half of the 16th century. The silk souk hosted the Iranian consulate until 1919.
- Suweiqa (small souk) consisted of 2 long alleys: Sweiqat Ali and Suweiqat Hatem, located in al-Farafira district which contained markets mainly specialized in home and kitchen equipment.
One is left distraught over the seeming futility of even contemplating rebuilding this world heritage site. Would it require half a century to reconstruct, as was required in Dresden Germany following three days of firebombing by British and American planes, which began on February 13, 1945?