Ancient City of Aleppo

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ancient City of Aleppo
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Reference 21
UNESCO region Arab States
Inscription history
Inscription 1986 (10th Session)
Aleppo in 1912

The Old City of Aleppo is the historic city centre of Aleppo, Syria. Many districts of the ancient city remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the 12th to the 16th century. Being subjected to constant invasions and political instability, the inhabitants of the city were forced to build cell-like quarters and districts that were socially and economically independent. Each district was characterized by the religious and ethnic characteristics of its inhabitants.

The Old City of Aleppo – composed of the ancient city within the walls and the old cell-like quarters outside the walls – has an approximate area of 350 hectares (860 acres; 3.5 km2), housing more than 120,000 residents.[1]

Characterized by its large mansions, narrow alleys, covered souqs and ancient caravanserais, the Ancient City of Aleppo became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.[2]

Many sections in the Al-Madina Souq and other medieval buildings in the ancient city were destroyed and ruined or burnt as a result of clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and the rebel forces of Jabhat al-Nusra, in what is called the Battle of Aleppo, launched by the opposition JN armed groups on 25 September 2012.[3] In February 2014, the opposition groups of the Islamic Front claimed responsibility for destroying a series of major historic buildings being used as fortified bases by the Syrian Army in the old city including the justice palace, the Carlton hotel and the old building of the city council.[4][5][6]

Origins and founding

Pattern of ancient Aleppo
Ancient Aleppo

Lying on the left bank of Queiq River the ancient city was surrounded by a circle of eight hills surrounding a prominent central hill on which the castle (originally a temple dating to the 2nd millennium BC) was erected in the shape of an acropolis. The radius of the circle is about 10 km (6 mi). The hills are Tell as-Sawda, Tell ʕāysha, Tell as-Sett, Tell al-Yāsmīn (Al-ʕaqaba), Tell al-Ansāri (Yārūqiyya), ʕan at-Tall, al-Jallūm, Baḥsīta.[7] With an approximate area of 160 hectares (400 acres; 1.6 km2), the ancient city was enclosed within a historic wall of 5 km (3 mi) in circuit that was last rebuilt by the Mamlukes. The wall has since disappeared in its most parts. It had nine gates (5 of them are well preserved) and was surrounded by a broad deep ditch.[7]

The newer Jdeydeh quarters of the old city were first built by the Christians during the early 15th century in the northern suburbs of the ancient city, after the Mongol withdrawal from Aleppo. Jdeydeh is one of the finest examples of a cell-like quarter in Aleppo. As a result of the economic development, many other quarters were established outside the walls of the ancient city during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Historical timeline

Throughout its history, Aleppo has been part of the following states:

Pre-history and pre-classical era

Ancient Aleppo
Hadad Temple Inside Aleppo Citadel

Aleppo has scarcely been touched by archaeologists, since the modern city occupies its ancient site. The site has been occupied from approximately 5000 BC, as excavations in Tallet Alsauda show.

Early Bronze Age

Aleppo appears in historical records as an important city much earlier than Damascus. The first record of Aleppo comes from the third millennium BC, when Aleppo was the capital of an independent kingdom closely related to Ebla, known as Armi to Ebla and Arman to the Akkadians. Giovanni Pettinato describes Armi as Ebla's alter ego. Naram-Sin of Akkad (or his grandfather Sargon) destroyed both Ebla and Arman in the 23rd century BC.[8][9]

Middle Bronze Age

In the Old Babylonian period, Aleppo's name appears as Ḥalab (Ḥalba) for the first time.[9] Aleppo was the capital of the important Amorite dynasty of Yamḥad. The kingdom of Yamḥad (ca. 1800-1600 BC), alternatively known as the 'land of Ḥalab,' was the most powerful in the Near East at the time.[10]

Yamḥad was destroyed by the Hittites under Mursilis I in the 16th century BC. However, Aleppo soon resumed its leading role in Syria when the Hittite power in the region waned due to internal strife.[9]

Late Bronze Age

Taking advantage of the power vacuum in the region, Parshatatar, king of the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni, conquered Aleppo in the 15th century BC. Subsequently, Aleppo found itself on the frontline in the struggle between the Mitanni and the Hittites and Egypt.[9]

The Hittite Suppiluliumas I permanently defeated Mitanni and conquered Aleppo in the 14th century BC. Aleppo had cultic importance to the Hittites for being the center of worship of the Storm-God.[9]

Iron Age

When the Hittite kingdom collapsed in the 12th century BC, Aleppo became part of the Syro-Hittite kingdom of Palistin,[11] then the Aramaean Syro-Hittite kingdom of Bit Agusi (which had its capital at Arpad),[12] it stayed part of that kingdom until conquered by the Assyrians In the 9th century BC, and became part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire until the late 7th century BC, before passing through the hands of the Neo-Babylonians and the Achamenid Persians.

Classical antiquity

Alexander the Great took over the city in 333 BC. Seleucus Nicator established a Hellenic settlement in the site between 301-286 BC. He called it Beroea (Βέροια), after Beroea in Macedon.

Northern Syria was the centre of gravity of the Hellenistic colonizing activity, and therefore of Hellenistic culture in the Seleucid Empire. As did other Hellenized cities of the Seleucid kingdom, Beroea probably enjoyed a measure of local autonomy, with a local civic assembly or boulē composed of free Hellenes.[13]

Beroea remained under Seleucid rule for nearly 300 years until the last holdings of the Seleucid dynasty were handed over to Pompey in 64 BC, at which time they became a Roman province. Rome's presence afforded relative stability in northern Syria for over three centuries. Although the province was administered by a legate from Rome, Rome did not impose its administrative organization on the Greek-speaking ruling class.[13]

Beroea is mentioned in 2 Macc. 13:3.

Medieval period and the expansion of the city

The throne hall of the citadel restored during the Mamluk period

The Sassanid Persians invaded Syria briefely in the early 7th century. Soon after Aleppo fell to Arabs under Khalid ibn al-Walid in 637. In 944, it became the seat of an independent Emirate under the Hamdanid prince Sayf al-Daula, and enjoyed a period of great prosperity.

On 9 August 1138, a deadly earthquake ravaged the city and the surrounding area. Although estimates from this time are very unreliable, it is believed that 230,000 people died, making it the fifth deadliest earthquake in recorded history.

After Tamerlane invaded Aleppo in 1400 and destroyed it, the Christians migrated out of the city walls and established their own cell in 1420, at the northwestern suburbs of the city, thus founding the quarters of Jdeydeh. The inhabitants of Jdeydeh were mainly brokers who facilitated trade between foreign traders and local merchants. Many other districts were built outside the historic walls during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Mention is made of the city, by one of the witches, in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, written between 1603 and 1607.[14]

Main sights

Aleppo is characterized by mixed architectural styles, having been ruled, among the other, by Romans, Byzantines, Seljuqs, Mamluks and Ottomans.[15]

Various types of 13th and 14th centuries constructions, such as caravanserais, caeserias, Quranic schools, hammams and religious buildings are found in the old city. The quarters of Jdeydeh district are home to numerous 16th and 17th-century houses of the Aleppine bourgeoisie, featuring stone engravings.

Souqs and Khans

Main article: Al-Madina Souq
Bawabet al-Yasmin near the wool market, Jdeideh
Ancient Aleppo, the entrance to Al-Madina Souq

The city's strategic trading position attracted settlers of all races and beliefs who wished to take advantage of the commercial roads that met in Aleppo from as far as China and Mesopotamia to the east, Europe to the west, and the Fertile Crescent and Egypt to the south. The largest covered souq-market in the world is in Aleppo, with an approximate length of 13 kilometres (8.1 miles).[16]

Al-Madina Souq, as it is locally known, is an active trade centre for imported luxury goods, such as raw silk from Iran, spices and dyes from India, and coffee from Damascus. Souq al-Madina is also home to local products such as wool, agricultural products and soap. Most of the souqs date back to the 14th century and are named after various professions and crafts, hence the wool souq, the copper souq, and so on. Aside from trading, the souq accommodated the traders and their goods in khans (caravanserais) and scattered in the souq. Other types of small market-places were called caeserias (قيساريات). Caeserias are smaller than khans in their sizes and functioned as workshops for craftsmen. Most of the khans took their names after their location in the souq and function, and are characterized with their beautiful façades and entrances with fortified wooden doors.

The most significant khans within and along the covered area of Souq al-Madina are: Khan al-Qadi from 1450, Khan al-Saboun from the early 16th century, Khan al-Nahhaseen from 1539, Khan al-Shouneh from 1546, Khan al-Jumrok from 1574, Souq Khan al-Wazir from 1682, Souq al-Farrayin, Souq al-Dira', Souq al-Hiraj, Souq al-Attarine, Souq az-Zirb, Souq Marcopoli, Souq as-Siyyagh, The Venetians' Khan,*Souq Khan al-Harir from the second half of the 16th century, Suweiqa, etc.

Other traditional souqs and khans in Jdeydeh quarter (outside the walled city):

Historic buildings

The most significant historic buildings of the ancient city include:

Bimaristan Arghun al-Kamili, 1354
Dar Basile alley in Jdeydeh, 18th century

The most significant historic buildings of Jdeydeh Christian quarter include:[21]


Places of worship


Aleppo city walls and the Gate of Qinnasrin, restored in 1256 by An-Nasir Yusuf

The old part of the city is surrounded with 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) thick walls, pierced by the nine historical gates (many of them are well-preserved) of the old town. These are, clockwise from the north-east of the citadel:


Aleppo was home to 177 hammams during the medieval period, until the Mongol invasion when many vital structures in the city were destroyed. Nowadays, roughly 18 hammams are operating in the old city.

Districts and subdivisions

The remains of the old walls at the entrance to Bab Al-Faraj
The old street around the citadel at Oghlubek, Altunbogha district

Old quarters around the citadel inside the walls of the ancient city:

Old quarters outside the walls of the ancient city:

Al-Hatab square in the Jdeideh quarter

Preservation of the ancient city

As an ancient trading centre, Aleppo's impressive souqs, khans, hammams, madrasas, mosques and churches are all in need of more care and preservation work. After World War II, the city was significantly redesigned; in 1954 French architect André Gutton had a number of wide new roads cut through the city to allow easier passage for modern traffic. Between 1954-1983 many buildings in the old city were demolished to allow for the construction of modern apartment blocks, particularly in the northwestern areas (Bab al-Faraj and Bab al-Jinan). As awareness for the need to preserve this unique cultural heritage increased, Gutton's master plan was finally abandoned in 1979 to be replaced with a new plan presented by the Swiss expert and urban designer Stefano Bianca, which adopted the idea of "preserving the traditional architectural style of Ancient Aleppo" paving the way for UNESCO to declare the Ancient City of Aleppo as a World Heritage Site in 1986.[2]

Several international institutions have joined efforts with local authorities and the Aleppo Archaeological Society, to rehabilitate the old city by accommodating contemporary life while preserving the old one. The governorate and the municipality are implementing serious programmes directed towards the enhancement of the ancient city and Jdeydeh quarter.

The German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Aga Khan Foundation (within the frames of Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme) have a great contribution in the preservation process of the old city.

See also


  1. bleeker. "Alepposeife: Aleppo history". Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  2. 1 2 "eAleppo:Aleppo city major plans throughout the history" (in Arabic).
  3. "Fighting in Aleppo starts fire in medieval souks". Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  4. Bombing of the justice palace
  5. Bombing of Carlton hotel
  6. Bombing of the city council
  7. 1 2 Alexander Russell, ed. (1856). The Natural History of Aleppo (1st ed.). London: Unknown. p. 266.
  8. Pettinato, Giovanni (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) Ebla, a new look at history p.135
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Hawkins, John David (2000) Inscriptions of the iron age p.388
  10. Kuhrt, Amélie (1998) The ancient Near East p.100
  11. Trevor Bryce. Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History. p. 111.
  12. John Boardman. The Cambridge Ancient History: The prehistory of the Balkans; and the Middle East and the Aegean world, tenth to eighth centuries B.C.. Volume 3. Part 1. p. 389.
  13. 1 2 Phenix, Robert R. (2008) The sermons on Joseph of Balai of Qenneshrin
  14. "The Tragedy of Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 3". Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  15. Yacoub, Khaled. "Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Aleppo, Syria". Reuters. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  16. "eAleppo: The old Souqs of Aleppo (in Arabic)". Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  17. " Khans of Aleppo (in Arabic)".
  18. "Aleppo…Cultural Landmark, Trade Hub by the Chinese News Agency (Xinhua)". DP-news. 2011-04-16. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  19. eAleppo Bab al-Faraj tower (in Arabic)
  20. Aleppo Culture National Library of Aleppo (in Arabic)
  21. "Ministry of Tourism, Syria: Aleppine House (in Arabic)".
  22. Halawiyya Mosque and Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  23. Muqaddamiyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  24. Shadbakhtiyya Madrasa Archived April 26, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Archnet Digital Library.
  25. Zahiriyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  26. Sultaniyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  27. 1 2 Burns, Russ (1999). Monuments of Syria. New York, London. p. 35.
  28. Terry, Allan (2003). Ayyubid Architecture. Solipsist Press. ISBN 0-944940-02-1.
  29. Kamiliyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  30. Sharafiyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  31. مدارس حلب القديمة ( 2 )
  32. Ahmadiyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  33. Uthmaniyya Madrasa Archnet Digital Library.
  34. Syrian Ministry of Tourism Baba Antakya & Qennesrin
  35. Carter, Terry; Dunston, Lara; Humphreys, Andrew (2004). Syria & Lebanon. Lonely Planet. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-86450-333-3.

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Coordinates: 36°11′N 37°09′E / 36.183°N 37.150°E / 36.183; 37.150

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