Mem­o­ries of an Aleppo lost

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ALISON STAN­FORD EUMUNDI, QUEENS­LAND

It was October 2010. We were wait­ing anx­iously at the bor­der cross­ing from Turkey into Syria won­der­ing how to iden­tify our guide for the 12 days we were to spend tour­ing. An un­kempt-look­ing man in his 30s ap­proached us and asked our names.

He in­tro­duced him­self as Ahmed. His English was ex­cel­lent, as was his knowl­edge of the his­tory and cul­ture of the re­gion. Our first stop was Aleppo, among the old­est con­tin­u­ously lived-in cities in the world. We loved it. Over four days we took in the main at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the ci­tadel, mosques and souk. From Aleppo we vis­ited the an­cient ru­ins of Ebla in the Idlib Gover­norate, dat­ing back to the third mil­len­nium BC. Here we saw the re­mains of pos­si­bly the ear­li­est ar­chive in the world, which con­tained about 60,000 cu­nei­form tablets cov­er­ing mat­ters such as ad­min­is­tra­tion, jus­tice and trade.

At the mu­seum in the city of Idlib we saw some of the best-pre­served tablets, as well as other arte­facts. As the only vis­i­tors to the mu­seum (it was a Holy Day but it had been kept open for us) the staff ac­com­pa­nied us, turn­ing lights on and off. So im­pressed were we with what we saw in this poorly lit, some­what shabby mu­seum that we pon­dered how an ex­hi­bi­tion of some of the trea­sures could be brought to Aus­tralia. But is the mu­seum still in­tact? Do the em­ploy­ees still have their jobs? Are they still alive?

Each day as we re­turned to our ho­tel in Aleppo, we had cof­fee in a nearby cafe and in the evening ate at lo­cal restau­rants that of­fered ex­cel­lent food and pass­able wine. We felt safe and sur­pris­ingly un­re­mark­able when wan­der­ing streets near our ho­tel with­out our guide. On the fi­nal day I thanked the cafe owner for his ex­cel­lent cof­fee. He took my hand, bent over it and wished us well. The staff waved us goodbye.

Ev­ery­where we went in Syria we en­coun­tered friend­li­ness and, where English was spo­ken, a will­ing­ness to chat. We drank tea with Druze peo­ple and ate pomegranates grown by Kur­dish farm­ers who would not ac­cept any money.

Seven years on, the Syria we dis­cov­ered is no longer there. The beau­ti­ful city of Aleppo is a mass of rub­ble and the re­main­ing res­i­dents are strug­gling to get out. The im­ages we see on the tele­vi­sion each day are heart­break­ing. When will it end? What will be left? Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com. au. Columnists will re­ceive a Cross Tech3 Mul­ti­Func­tion Pen that neatly switches be­tween a black and red pen, pen­cil, eraser and a sty­lus for use on smart­phone or other touch­screen de­vice; $89.95. More: lux­u­rypens.net.au

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