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20 January 2016 / leggypeggy

Aleppo’s magnificent citadel suffers in Syria’s civil war

Aleppo citadel entrance at night

Aleppo citadel entrance at night

Aleppo entrance bridge

See how small the people look crossing the bridge

The citadel in Aleppo, Syria, has copped a battering. The current thugs of Syria (both government and rebels) have made a mess of the place.

I suppose I should be philosophical about it. Parts of this medieval structure were already a mess when I’ve visited in the past. But that was the result of historic crumbling and warfare. This latest devastation is the result of civil war and outright thuggery.

Aleppo’s fortified citadel dominates the city and is thought to be one of the world’s oldest and largest castles still in existence.

I first visited Aleppo in 1977 and then again in the early 1980s.

My memory of my first visit in 1981 always makes me smile. We had Poor John’s parents in tow. I had written a letter to book two rooms in Aleppo’s Grand Hotel.

When we arrived at the reception desk, they claimed to have no knowledge of my letter or our reservation—and no room in the inn either. Bugger.

entrance to Aleppo citadel

Entrance to Aleppo citadel

Aleppo citadel interior

Aleppo citadel interior with tower

So we headed out to find a suitable alternative.

I knew it wasn’t going to have a happy ending and I was right. We ended up flopping at a small, seedy hotel that had a room for five available. Hotel staff were most shocked to learn that we were happy to pay for all five beds and only use four. The reason is a no brainer. We needed to control the whole room.

Good heavens, Betty (Poor John’s mum) would have fainted dead away if a newcomer had joined our room in the middle of the night. And I can’t say that I’d have blamed her. So we took the whole room, swatted the cockroaches and mosquitoes as needed, and used the shared bathroom down the hall.

But I started this post to tell a bit about Aleppo’s citadel, so I’d better get back to the topic at hand.

Looking up at the Aleppo citadel

Looking up to the Aleppo citadel

Looking down from the Aleppo citadel

Looking down from the Aleppo citadel

The citadel has size going for it. It sits on an elliptical mound that is 450 by 325 metres (or 1480 by 1066 feet). The mound is surrounded by a moat that is 22 metres (72 feet) deep and 30 metres (98 feet) wide.

Over the centuries, the citadel has seen a variety of residents including Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks. More than 500 years ago, a Venetian traveller said 2000 people lived within the citadel.

Conservationists think most of the current construction is from the Ayyubid period. Most of that work was organised by al Zahir al-Ghazi, who ruled Aleppo between 1193 and 1215. His most impressive addition was the tall bridge-cum-viaduct, which still (I hope) serves as the citadel’s main entrance.

Aleppo citadel—idea of size

Aleppo citadel—see the fellow on the wall for an idea of size

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the citadel has suffered untold damage since the civil war began. News reports say the main gate was shelled in 2012. Last year, it seems a bomb was set off in a tunnel under one of the outer walls. I assume the reference to ‘main gate’ means that wonderful bridge-cum-viaduct.

At this stage, no one is exactly sure how extensive the wreckage is and an accurate assessment is unlikely to be made until the war ends.

So I’m keen to share some pics of how the citadel (and some of it surrounds) looked when I visited in December 2009. The ones that are immediately below are from the throne room (I think).

Also sharing a pic of the hotel where we stayed, as well as a pic of the Aleppo souk (market). I can’t believe I didn’t take more when I had the chance. It’s been damaged too. Especially heartbreaking because I always thought it was one of the most beautiful souks in the world.

I wanted to share a recipe that the waiter gave me for a wonderful appetiser dip that was served in the restaurant where we ate on our first night in Aleppo. You’ll have to wait for that. It’s written on a scrap of paper and tucked into a cookbook I can’t find tonight (almost midnight).

But if you’re needing a dip sometime soon, check out this Turkish one on my cooking blog.

Aleppo hotel common area

Aleppo hotel common area

Aleppo souk

Aleppo souk ceiling with Poor John


Leave a Comment
  1. Lynz Real Cooking / Jan 20 2016 1:32 am

    Amazing post! I went to Aleppo I think a few times but didn’t even know it as we passed through! What beautiful and amazing architecture! So sad! Your story is so exciting and funny as we also stayed in a hotel and it was quite an experience! Love this Peggy, the photos are just amazing! love the souk! It looked like souk al humadeya at first!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Andrew Petcher / Jan 20 2016 1:39 am

    Throughout history we have always knocked things down or damaged them but these days we should know better.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. susan@marsha'sbungalow / Jan 20 2016 3:01 am

    Thank you for these views of history. (I did have to chuckle at your reference to mailing a letter to request a reservation – that’s something that you don’t hear about much in this century.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2016 10:52 am

      Three times in my life I’ve mailed letters to make reservations and all three times have failed in one way or another. Now I mostly skip reservations entirely. Have never had to sleep in the street.

      Liked by 1 person

      • susan@marsha'sbungalow / Jan 21 2016 7:45 am

        That is so brave, and no doubt adds to your adventures. I used to travel like that also, but one disastrous side-trip in Eastern Europe broke me of that charming habit. Maybe one day, I’ll try it again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 8:14 am

        I’ve probably been lucky. Even the times the reservations fell through, I managed to find a place to stay. Although once it was in a hostel room with 12 beds. 🙂


  4. Fiona / Jan 20 2016 3:02 am

    So sad. So beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sy S. / Jan 20 2016 4:54 am

    Thanks Peggy for your write up on “Aleppo’s magnificent citadel” in Syria. I was not familiar with the city and citadel. Glad that you have taken many photos of places you have gone to in the past… surely worth a 1,000 words for each photo. To bad, war destroys architecture/historic sights… including massive killings and starvation of people in Syria.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Unconfirmed Bachelorette / Jan 20 2016 5:41 am

    Magnificent, Peggy! Sad to imagine the destruction.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet / Jan 20 2016 6:54 am

    Some of the first shots look like they could easily be found in Game Of Thrones!

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2016 10:55 am

      Hadn’t thought of that, but the citadel would have made a good setting for the series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet / Jan 20 2016 8:06 pm

        It literally just jumped out at me. Probably because I had not long watched a “Making Of” on the show so it was in my mind….


      • leggypeggy / Jan 20 2016 8:50 pm

        The lighting is very effective.


  8. Nadia S. Dirbashi / Jan 21 2016 3:04 am

    Your blogs are truly inspirational. Keep up the great work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ledrakenoir / Jan 21 2016 5:08 am

    Amazing… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Carol Ferenc / Jan 21 2016 6:39 am

    What a magnificent building this is! Let’s hope it survives somewhat intact. To think of its complete destruction is heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 7:20 am

      I doubt that it would be completely destroyed or even 50 per cent, but any damage just seems so senseless.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carol Ferenc / Jan 21 2016 8:10 am

        That it is!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Elouise / Jan 21 2016 8:12 am

    Stunning photos and great stories! I love the shots that convey the magnificence and dominance of the citadel. Thanks for sharing the pics. Sadly, it’s the only way I’ll ever see this splendor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 8:23 am

      It really is a grand structure. I should try to find an aerial view that shows just how big it really is.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Vicki / Jan 21 2016 10:43 am

    Wonderful photos and so sad to think that civil war has decimated structures that have stood for hundreds of years. Of course it would be impossible to rebuild such large structures (with no plans or drawings from all angles).

    I guess its a painful lesson in the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 11:11 am

      I’d like to think that historians in Syria have a fairly good record of how things looked. Whether things are rebuilt is another matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Sangeeta Pradhan RD, CDE / Jan 21 2016 1:34 pm

    Wow! What an imposing view of Aleppo Citadel! Great pictures. Thank you for sharing the history here. War may destroy, but your post gives us a glimpse of the splendor! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 5:58 pm

      Just wish I’d taken even more pics. Who knew my time there would be so precious?

      Liked by 1 person

  14. vagabondurges / Jan 21 2016 4:26 pm

    Thank you for another of your wonderful posts that give us an idea of the place beyond its current use in the headlines, and the reminder that these are real places with history and humanity, not just battlegrounds.
    My wish tonight is to read (or write) a post someday about the citadel on the day I/we visit it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 21 2016 6:01 pm

      I so very much hope you are able to make a visit sooner rather than later.


  15. poshbirdy / Jan 21 2016 10:40 pm

    Gorgeous pics and lovely post, thank you. What a terrible loss

    Liked by 1 person

  16. chattykerry / Jan 22 2016 3:49 am

    Wonderful post and I loved the ornate ceiling in the souk. I am filled with sadness every time I think about Syria and Iraq.


  17. tony / Jan 22 2016 11:09 pm

    Lovely shots again Peggy. Hard to comprehend how many world heritage sites have to be rebuilt because of the insanity of war. We visited the rebuilt old bridge at Mostar only a year ago, which similar thugs shelled to no purpose until it fell down.

    Yet, much of the conflict in Iraq and Syria is due to the insanity that followed 9/11, the dethroning of Saddam Hussein and the inattention that followed, including the neglect of the rise of ISIS on Obama’s watch. We in Australia were complicit in this but seem reluctant to take our share of Syrian refugees. Bashar al-Assad will keep fighting until there are no civilians left standing. One hopes he may be publicly tried for his war crimes someday.

    It is so important what you are doing, reminding us that this was a wonderful country full of beautiful people with a proud culture and history. One hopes it is possible to pick up the pieces, but it seems impossible now that the Sunni Shia sectarian conflict seems to be raging out of control.

    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 23 2016 8:12 am

      Tony, I agree completely with your comment that ‘much of the conflict in Iraq and Syria is due to the insanity that followed 9/11’ . Still confounds me that the West chose to invade Iraq against all informed advice. We have a lot to answer for and tens of thousands of refugees to support.


  18. mommermom / Jan 23 2016 1:55 am

    Wonderful pics, Peggy. It is such a loss to think of the treasures that have been destroyed or desecrated due to man’s greed and wages of war. Thanks again for sharing your experiences, pictures, and thoughts.


  19. thegreyeye / Jan 24 2016 9:47 am

    How can people destroy their own heritage?? 😞😔


  20. Alexander Lautsyus / Jan 26 2016 1:51 am

    You’ve been lucky to watch this beauty and save it on your pictures. Unfortunately, it never be like that anymore.


    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2016 9:03 pm

      Too true. It will never be the same again, but at least there’s a record.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. wisreader / Jan 26 2016 2:37 am

    Saying again, Peggy, thank you so much for doing this – for all these photos and this wonderful information. Had a pretty quick look. I’ll be back, spending some time to really absorb it all, soon.


    • leggypeggy / Jan 27 2016 9:05 pm

      Do come back when you have the chance. Hoping to post about the Krak des Chevaliers tonight. It’s an incredible medieval castle that has also suffered some damage.


  22. fonzandcancer / Jan 29 2016 7:34 am

    Thanks for following my blog… 😊


  23. Duzi Heabani / Jan 30 2016 10:53 pm

    There are five million refugees escaping from Syria, and Germany has offered to take many more than most, so the problem of xenophobic unrest will be magnified.
    You can’t educate bigots. Governments will have to develop a strategy to deal with it.

    Various understanding of religions have been malevolently used to manipulate people into hatred for one another, which leads some to persecute and murder others, as we see it in Syria. The fate of the Alawites and Christians under a Sunni Islamist government in Syria—which is what the so-called rebels are fighting for—would be dire indeed.

    For the vast majority of Muslims this renders the Alawites heretics of the worst kind. Certainly, among Sunnis they are despised as heretical polytheists and are not usually counted as Muslims—they are beyond the limits of anything recognizable as Islam. Historically, they have faced persecution and oppression.

    The position of the Assad government is secular and modernist. The problem is they rule over a Sunni majority that has deep theological objections to Alawiteism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 30 2016 11:05 pm

      Thanks so very much for stopping by and for commenting. You have excellent insight into the mess that’s going on in Syria now. Where in Syria did/do you live?


      • Duzi Heabani / Jan 30 2016 11:06 pm

        I have never been to Syria.


      • Duzi Heabani / Jan 30 2016 11:10 pm

        I knew Saudi Arabia and Qatar were behind the plan to oust Assad in Syria with help from the US and ISIS, but only had suspicions about Turkey’s involvement. I knew the Turks had secret camps for Syrian refugees, but now it’s apparent now that they were secret allies of the US – allies in subterfuge.

        I guess the US decided to use ISIS soon after the Sunni revolt against Shiite rule in Iraq, but kept pretending ISIS was the enemy, when in fact they were using ISIS, arming them to help Saudi Arabia oust Assad – all the while sanctimoniously and hypocritically pretending they were fighting ISIS.

        The war in Iraq, instigated by George W Bush was not about terrorism at all, but about Saudi Arabia and oil – and they used the terrorist groups as scapegoats, by secretly arming and training mercenaries, and helped the Israelis by feuding with Iran, and imposing sanctions, during which – I believe – many children died of starvation.


      • leggypeggy / Jan 31 2016 7:53 am

        I really appreciate you sharing insightful background on the situation in Syria and the general ‘neighbourhood’.


  24. Jane / Jan 30 2016 11:58 pm

    The buildings truly are magnificent but how disappointing that they have been damaged so much by war. I was amused by your tale of “no room at the inn” for you and John’s parents. The alternative accommodation sounded awful but I’m glad you could find something. I do hope we see an end to the strife and peace reign in the future…somehow. Another interesting post, Peggy. Thank you!


    • leggypeggy / Jan 31 2016 7:58 am

      Hi Jane. Thanks for stopping by. Poor John and I have stayed it lots of awful accommodation. His parents not so much, but they managed. And Syria, my heart just breaks for Syria.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Forestwoodfolkart / Feb 4 2016 8:18 pm

    Thanks to you and commenters for contributing to the freedom of speech in this regard. Blogs can be an effective way of getting another perspective than mainstream media


  26. Traveling Rockhopper / Feb 5 2016 1:02 am

    The entrance looks amazing at night!


  27. The Reading Cottage: The Platform For Books, Health, Music, Features, Tourism And Travel / Feb 5 2016 7:43 am

    Great pictures, they all have wonderful stories to tell.


    • leggypeggy / Feb 6 2016 8:41 am

      Yes, a lot of stories there. Thanks for stopping by.


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