Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 75, Aleppo, Syria

While Damascus was always the 'holy' city, the seat of rulers and wary of foreigners, Aleppo (or Halab as it is known), Syria's second city, has been one of commerce since Roman times. While both cities claim the title of 'oldest continually inhabited city in the world', it's in Aleppo that the legacy of history feels more immediate.

First stop, the souk!C'mon guys, let's go in.....

Aleppo today retains that air of an Arabian bazaar city, with people going about business as they have done for centuries. The streets speak a rhythm of sounds – from horse-drawn carts over cobblestones to the more frenetic pace of donkey-riding couriers, still the fastest way through the atmospheric, labyrinthine souq that's fragrant with olive soap, exotic spices, roasting coffee and succulent grilled shwarma.

The Aleppo souk is covered by stone archways for about 30km. This makes it the longest covered souk in the Middle East.

Once the most important trade area in Syria, a complicated maze of narrow cobbled streets forms this magnificent Bazaar.

Hey , what did everyone buy??
Marti bought a gold chain....a special gold pattern called the Aleppo weave or chain that is made only in Aleppo.

Nopi bought decorative boxes. Aleppo is famous for its intricate inlay work that can be found in boxes of all shapes and sizes, and Nopi is going to store her postcrossing cards in them.
Feroz bought woolen wraps that can be worn as shawls

Sita bought sweets made from the pistachio in decorative boxes.
Jarca bought an ornate pots to make her coffee in.
We all bought the most famous Aleppine product, olive oil soap. Many factories produce this using traditional techniques.

The Bazaar is extremely busy today as people are doing last minute shopping for Ramadaan.

While Aleppo may not bustle as it did when it was a key stop on the Silk Road, the relative lack of big investment has actually done the city a favour.
The World Heritage–listed Old City was saved from irreparable d
amage by not succumbing to modernisation. Today it is without doubt a fragile treasure, but a new breed of local investors and entrepreneurs have been wisely spending money to immaculately restore some old city treasures. Yippee!!

A plan is in place to restore all of the historic buildings in the Old City – still a thriving centre with more than 100, 000 residents.

There is the famous Aleppo Citadel.
A magnificent enormous fortress, the Aleppo Citadel, is sometimes considered to be one of the oldest in the region.

The hill the Citadel stands on is supposed to date back to the 16th century BC, when the Amorites were in control. However the earliest remains that have been uncovered only go back as far as the 10th century BC when the Neo Hittites raised a temple on this site.
Later it was said Abraham milked his cow there.
It became a citadel under the Seleucids.
Saladin's son, Ghazi, used it as both residence and fortress a
nd it suffered from the Mongol invasions in 1269 and 1400. The present structure and designs of the Aleppo citadel is Ghazi's work.

The sole entrance to the Citadel is through the outer tower in the south.
This defended the stone arched bridge, which covered the 22m moat. The magnificent gateway is almost a castle in itself. The door is placed on a sidewall with a close wall facing it to limit the space needed to ram the door down.

As we go in, there is a bent entrance that goes right, left, le
ft, right, right, and then left. This is to slow down attackers. There are three gates with carved figures at each. In the court there is a cistern (Byzantine) and a few brick vaults, probably dungeons. The pitch dark of the inside of the gateway is to strengthen the contrast between light and dark so that it would be impossible for attackers to see..
This is truly an impressive place...

And there is the famous Great Mosque.

The site of the Great Mosque is the former Agora from the Hellenistic period, which later became the garden for the Cathedral of St. Helena, during the Christian era. It was built by the Umayyad Caliph al Walid, who had earlier founded the Great Mosque in Damascus. It was completed in 717 by his successor Caliph Suleiman. Nur al Din later rebuilt it in 1169 after a great fire and the Mamelukes made further alterations.

This mosque has an enormous 45-meter minaret,

which is completely detached from it, built by the Seljuks in 1070.

Through the main entrance, a large court can be seen with pillared arcades, which are substitutions for the original ones in the Damascus mosque. Another series of arches can be found in the façade of the prayer hall, which were built by the Mamelukes. The façade is well decorated with intricately cut and various colored stones. A composition of white marble and inlaid basalt can be seen on the main door.

As for the minbar, which is the pulpit on which the Sheikh stands when preaching, it is very beautifully carved out of wood and probably dates back to the 15th century.
Inside the prayer hall, to the left of the mihrab is a finely tiled chamber that is said to hold the head of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

Another impressive Syrian city!

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