Aleppo’s famed Old City left ‘un­rec­og­niz­able’ by war

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL - ALEPPO: ‘Ir­re­place­able her­itage’ Ghost town

Once renowned for its bustling souks, grand citadel and his­toric gates, Aleppo’s Old City has been ren­dered vir­tu­ally un­rec­og­niz­able by some of the worst vi­o­lence of Syria’s war. For cen­turies, Aleppo was Syria’s eco­nomic and cul­tural pow­er­house, at­tract­ing tourists from around the world to its cel­e­brated her­itage sites. But now, only gaunt stray cats roam the rub­ble-strewn al­ley­ways of its Old City, a UNESCO World Her­itage site, af­ter years of sav­age con­flict. In the famed Al-Hatab Square, re­cently re­cap­tured by the Syr­ian army, lawyer and Alep­pian his­to­rian Alaa Al-Sayyed could scarcely be­lieve his eyes.

Al-Hatab was one of the old­est squares in the city, but it now lay dot­ted with sand bar­ri­cades and the charred rem­nants of over­turned buses. “I couldn’t even rec­og­nize it be­cause it was so se­verely dam­aged. I told my­self, this can’t be Al-Hatab square,” he said. The Old City be­came one of Aleppo’s blood­i­est front lines af­ter rebel groups over­ran the eastern half of the city in mid-2012, a year af­ter the con­flict be­gan with anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

For four years, it was caught be­tween op­po­si­tion fac­tions in the east and gov­ern­ment forces in the west. Fight­ing de­stroyed the 11th cen­tury minaret of Aleppo’s famed Um­mayad mosque and heav­ily dam­aged the old Cru­sader citadel. Faced with a blis­ter­ing of­fen­sive by forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, op­po­si­tion fac­tions with­drew from the Old City on De­cem­ber 7 in a highly sym­bolic re­treat.

Aleppo’s cov­ered mar­ket-the largest in the world­served for cen­turies as a gath­er­ing place for ar­ti­sans and traders. They came from across the globe to its 4,000 shops and 40 car­a­vanserais, road­side inns for trav­el­ers. But now the mar­ket’s walls are scarred by years of gun­fire, rock­ets and mor­tar rounds-at­tacks that Sayyed called “un­jus­ti­fi­able” be­cause of the area’s his­tor­i­cal value. The mar­ket was “the eco­nomic heart of Aleppo and an ir­re­place­able piece of her­itage”, he said. At­tack­ing it “was a de­ci­sive blow against Aleppo’s econ­omy, be­cause thou­sands of Alep­pian fam­i­lies, whether rich for poor, re­lied on the souk for their liveli­hoods.”

Abu Ah­mad, 50, once owned sev­eral shops in the old mar­ket where he sold vi­brant fab­rics that he pro­duced else­where in the city. Forced to leave his store­fronts be­hind as fight­ing there in­ten­si­fied, he opened a kiosk sell­ing cof­fee and other hot drinks in the gov­ern­ment-held Aleppo district of Furqan. “I sold my wife’s jew­elry so I could buy this kiosk,” Abu Ah­mad said, tears welling in his eyes and his voice crack­ing on a cold De­cem­ber morn­ing. He said he hoped to re­turn and find his old store­front in­tact, but was pre­pared to sell his car to re­build if nec­es­sary. “I’m a trades­men, and I don’t want to leave my trade. I want to pass it on to my son,” he said.

The war also rav­aged the touris­tic area around Aleppo’s famed citadel, in­clud­ing the Al-Sul­taniyah mosque and the im­pos­ing white-stoned Grand Serail. The lux­u­ri­ous Carl­ton Ho­tel was com­pletely lev­eled by a mas­sive rebel tun­nel bomb in Fe­bru­ary 2014. In nearby Aqyul district, the rows of de­mol­ished res­i­den­tial build­ings seemed to ex­tend end­lessly to­wards neigh­bor­ing Bab Al-Ha­did. Bro­ken wash­ing ma­chines, air con­di­tion­ing units, and other house­hold items lay in heaps out­side, while torn pieces of blue can­vas flut­tered in win­dow frames where the glass had been blown out by ex­plo­sions.

One stray cat wan­dered aim­lessly across the main street, paus­ing to sniff at a de­cay­ing body still ly­ing in the street. Even the lo­cal ceme­tery did not sur­vive the bat­tle un­scathed, with parts of shat­tered tomb­stones strewn across patches of dried grass. In Bab Al-Ha­did, home to one of the city’s best-pre­served his­tor­i­cal gates be­fore the war, there was a sim­i­lar si­lence. Near its square, which dates back to 1509 AD, store­fronts were still painted with the three-star flag of Syria’s be­lea­guered op­po­si­tion. “From Houran (in the south) to Aleppo, the rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ues,” reads graf­fiti scrawled on a wall in the de­serted neigh­bor­hood. —AFP

ALEPPO: A gen­eral view shows a se­verely dam­aged street in Aleppo’s Al-Kalasseh neigh­bor­hood in the eastern part of the war torn city. —AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.