* Was fortunate enough to travel to Syria and see the country in 2008 (when the original article was written), three years before the actual war broke out. This is a reminder, a story about the country with immense cultural heritage, posted here with wholehearted wish for peace to be restored.
Aleppo is the city in the northern part of Syria, and besides Damascus it is one of the oldest settlements in the world. It is the town full of tradition and monuments that exudes history and was even well known as the capital of the mighty Yamkhad kingdom in 1780 BC, when it fell under Hittites’ control, being the target for various other conquerors afterwards.
In the 4th century BC the town was called Beroia. The first city plan was made back than, the one that could be recognized east of the Antioch Gate even today. This town was extremely important for Greeks and Romans, followed later by Arab and Muslim invaders. Meanwhile, Aleppo developed into one huge trading center and the town where pilgrims on the way to Mecca usually take a break on their journey.
Thus, it is deservedly referred to as – the Gate of Asia.
The 10th-century Citadel
When the town flourished in the 10th century AD, the original plan of the famous Citadel came into being, the structure Aleppo is known for worldwide.
This fortress was described as „the most spectacular medieval structure in the Middle East“ and it still proudly stands, defying ravages of time.
The Citadel is located on the 55-meter hill, dominating its surroundings with the imposing size. Because of its specific position, it was considered to be a threat to town authorities since it was separated enough to have its own government, and yet, it was still in the center of the town. Hence, it was under constant supervision. At one point the fortress had its own governor who answered to city’s mayor.
There are numerous traces of religious and civil monuments in the Citadel which were, unfortunately, vastly destroyed by the earthquake in 1822.
But the remains of the old public bathroom from the 11th century can still be found today, along with traces of the Grand Mosque founded by the Umayyads, and the Royal Palace.
Fortress for 10,000 people
The first impression of the fortress is by far the deep trench that surrounds it, separating it from the rest of the city like some sort of an island. There is a long medieval bridge which was once the only way to get into the fort, followed by huge iron gates.
The trench was dug out during Ayyubids rule and, even though the town got seriously damaged by Mongols in 1260, it soon rose up again.
The fortress could receive about 10,000 people and it was fully supplied with all the things inhabitants might need on daily basis.
The construction visible today in Aleppo actually got its appearance at the beginning of the 13th century and it was built onto the ruins of the early Byzantine fort.
The unconquerable walls
In order for invaders to reach the premises of the fort’s governor they were supposed to go through the lateral gate where no tools could be used for breaking down the door because of its position. If by any chance they would succeed to go through the gate on the bridge and would try to break in, boiling oil and stones were thrown at them from fort’s walls. Even if they were to overcome this obstacle, they were still supposed to follow the narrow corridor one by one where they would come across men with sabres.
Besides these rich and unconquerable premises, the fortress has housed bathrooms, the mosque, markets etc. Once you find yourself here, just try to imagine what the town was like back than – on the hill, heavily fortified, completely safe, fully supplied.
Try to touch its walls… Can you feel that you are standing on the very spot where the capital of the mighty kingdom stood 4,000 thousand years ago, and that even the Hittites lived here!
When you climb up to the Citadel, take a walk around the fort and gaze at the town below. That is when you are going to feel the power of the place, being aware of the strategic importance of the fort’s position, since down there, look – there is the whole of Aleppo, the whole town on the palm of your hand!