Ancient Aleppo


According to UNESCO, the Ancient City of Aleppo, known as Syria’s second city, is located in Syria and was strategically located at a crossroads of many trade routes of the 2nd millennium B.C.. Ever since it’s origin, Aleppo has been an important city for those seeking wealth and prosperity. It’s location near the Mediterranean Sea, the Tigris and Euphrates made it the middle of ancient Egyptian and Hittite trade routes(Tharoor 2012). UNESCO states that the city was under control of many people such as the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Mameluks and Ottomans throughout time. According to Tharoor (2012) the city has rarely known peace. Aleppo was tied up with the Crusades and battles for control of the city for centuries after that.

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The Ancient City of Aleppo is indicated with the yellow arrow. The other five World Heritage sites identified by UNESCO in Syria are indicated with a blue arrow.

One of the most distinct features of the ancient city is the Citadel. Da Silva (2016) describes this as one of the oldest and biggest castles around the world. The Citadel is a focal point of the entire city, it was a fortress used to protect the city and all of it’s inhabitants from harm.According to Steele (2015) the design of the walls allowed archers to fire their arrows and the strategic placement of it is still used today in battles.


Aleppo's Citadel

Aleppo’s Citadel, Image source:

Endangering Factors

UNESCO has identified the Ancient City of Aleppo to be one of the endangered World Heritage Sites. Aleppo has been a part of the endangered site list since 2012 meeting the criteria (iii) and (iv) designated by UNESCO. These criteria mean that Aleppo bears testimony to living or disappeared civilizations and has architecturally or technological information that shows significance in human history (UNESCO).

Aleppo contains a rich and diverse history throughout time and it was previously the most populated city in Syria according to Tharoor (2012).  Since Aleppo is so large and important it has been the home to many recent war attacks by rebelling groups (Steele 2015). ISIS, the Jihadist radicals, have taken control of certain parts of the city during the current Syrian civil war (Steele 2015). This archaeologically significant site of Aleppo is being damaged through the bombing and looting in the area along with the six other UNESCO sites in Syria (Ghose 2013).

Rubble after and explosion at the Aleppo Citadel

Rubble after and explosion at the Aleppo Citadel, Image source: AFP/Getty Images

According to the AAAS (2014) Aleppo is home to some of the heaviest fighting in the Syrian civil war. The Great Mosque of Aleppo was destroyed in one of these battles for power during 2013 and since than numerous other historically significant sites have been damaged. There are satellite images showing the damage south and north of the Citadel with many archaeological sites being hit(AAAS 2014).

Damage south of the Citadel

Damage south of the Citadel Damage to the roof of Suq al-Madina( green arrow), the Great Mosque was destroyed (red arrow), craters along the easter wall (blue arrow) and nearby damaged structures (yellow arrow) , Image source: Image DigitalGloble Analysis AAAS

Civil unrest in this region has been the biggest danger to the heritage of the region, but it is not the only one. Tourism has an impact on the integrity of archaeological sites in Syria and all over world. Specifically in Aleppo the hotel development of Bab al-Faraj compromises the visual integrity according to UNESCO. Any movement and inhabitation of an archaeological site is destructive, especially when outsiders who may not view this history as their own are involved.

Syria is home to some of the oldest cities in the world along the fertile crescent  and many of them are in danger of losing centuries worth of heritage (AAAS 2014). Jeremy Sabloff, the author of Archaeology Matters, argued the importance of heritage preservation. He believes that while tourists may be destructive, their interest in archaeological sites could be beneficial to home countries. By preserving these ancient sites there is opportunity for economic growth. An even more meaningful reason Sabloff offers support of preservation is the importance of these archaeological sites to people’s cultural identities (Sabloff 2008, Chapter 6).

Sabloff may have also argued that while the war in Syria isn’t inevitable due to human nature, it is a tool used to build civilizations (Sabloff 2008, Chapter 4). While I agree with Sabloff’s assessment of war, the civil war in Syria is causing more destruction to the history of the city than it is worth. The infrastructure that has been around for centuries is being destroyed and it is impossible to argue that war can be beneficial when preserving archaeological sites.

Working toward security and preservation of Aleppo is the main goal of UNESCO. They plan on doing this by creating a conservation management plan for rules on construction of new developments and preservation of archaeological remains uncovered during developmental works.The 1992 Project for the Rehabilitation of Old Aleppo was established to guide preservation and rehabilitation of the city. This effort along with others to foster support of rehabilitation to Aleppo (UNESCO). Even with these developments, there needs to be a more comprehensive plan to preserve Aleppo’s heritage in these times of war. Officials are struggling to pinpoint how to save Aleppo from the war, especially with no end to the war in sight.

Insight into Global Issues

Recently the battle for Aleppo has been especially brutal. Natalie Nougarede, a reporter for the Guardian, has outlined that 300,000 people have been exposed to carpet bombing that goes widely unnoticed by the western world. Not only is the destruction of heritage occurring but hundreds of lives are being lost (Nougayrede 2016). This civil war is destroying lives across Syria as well as archaeologically important sites.  Bastien Varoutsikos, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, argues that all sites identified by UNESCO have a common denominator. He would agree that the disconnect found in the Ancient City of Aleppo between the nations and individuals who are destroying the heritage can be found around the world at endangered sites (Varoutsikos 2015). Individuals that loot or destroy these archaeological important sites have a disconnect to the importance of preserving the memory and culture of past societies.


Ancient City of Aleppo, Image source: AFP

The Syrian civil war is a global issue. Multiple countries such as Russia, the United States, and Turkey are involved along with numerous militia groups within Syria. This is explained by Oren Dorell (2016), a reporter with USA Today .

In the following video Dorell explains  all of the groups involved in the conflict.The video can be found on

Understanding the conflict that drives the destruction of Aleppo and other Syrian World Heritage Sites is important. The bombings within the city aren’t done just by the residents but by foreign countries that are not thinking about preserving Syria’s ancient cities and heritage. However, the Ancient City of Aleppo shouldn’t just be preserved for the people of Syria. Aleppo is perhaps the oldest inhabited cities around the world, many people globally could trace ancestry back to the region (AAAS 2014). Aleppo isn’t just Syrian history, but all of our history. It is time for the western world to care about what is happening in Syria.


Ancient History, Modern Destruction: Assessing the Current Status of Syria’s World Heritage Sites Using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery. Electronic Document,, accessed November 28, 2016

2016 Five Things You Don’t Know About Syria Strategic Battlefield of Aleppo. Electronic Document,, accessed December 2, 2016

Da Silva, Chantal
2016 Aleppo: Chilling photos show how the ancient city has changed since the Syrian conflict started. Electronic Document,,
 accessed December 2, 2016

Dorell, Oren
2016 Russian planes bomb Aleppo as Syrian army begins assault. Electronic Document,,accessed December 3, 2016

Ghose, Tia
2013 Syria’s Rich Archaeological Treasures Imperiled by Civil War. Electronic Document,, accessed December 2, 2016

Nougayrède, Natalie
2016 We are watching the destruction of Aleppo. Where is the rage?. Electronic Document,, accessed December 2, 2016

Sabloff, Jeremy
2008 Archaeology Matters. Left Coast Press, New York.

Steele, Jonathan
2015 Syria’s war-scarred citadel of Aleppo: a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 2. Electronic Document,
 ,accessed December 1, 2016

Tharoor, Ishaan
2012 Brief History of Aleppo: A Great World City Now in the Grip of War. Electronic Document, ,accessed November 28, 2016

Ancient City of Aleppo. Electronic Document,, accessed November 28, 2016

The Criteria for Selection. Electronic Document, accessed December 4, 2016

Varoutsikos, Bastien
2015 The condemnation of memory: what’s behind the destruction of World Heritage sites. Electronic Document,, accessed December 2, 2016


13 thoughts on Ancient Aleppo

  1. I wanted to visit this site because I also did a site in Syria, the Ancient City of Bosra. I think you did a good job of talking about conflict and how there are other factors as well. I liked how you had endangering factors similar to mine, like conflict, but also different from mine, like tourism, that I could read more about since I did not have tourism. I also liked the video on what is happening in the Syrian War now because it can give more insight to people who are curious. Nice work!

  2. I think it was very interesting to see the parallels between our sites, as well as the differences. I researched the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. The Ancient city of Aleppo is very close to a few of my sites, and near them the damage is about the same. Militant groups taking over parts of the sites and civil unrest. It is also good to see that the effects of the war that are damaging the northern parts of Syria are not spreading to the southern parts, where a few of the sites included in the Ancient Villages are undamaged. Great job on your website!

  3. It’s amazing to see how one city can survive the test of time despite endless conflict. Did any of your sources mention which civilization originally built the Citadel? It’s certainly a shame that parts of it has been destroyed especially as it in my opinion reflects the strength of the city as a whole. Do you think it’s possible that in the future conflict will be able to end long enough for economic growth in the city once again? Great job!

    1. I think that the Citadel has had a lot of different people working on it but it was mostly erected by the Ottomans and the Ayyubids. I am hopeful that the fighting will come to an end soon but unfortunately it is hard to tell and without an end to the fighting it is impossible to stabilize the city.

  4. It seems like Aleppo and my site, Damascus are extremely similar. They are both cities in Syria that represent evolving culture based on who has inhabited them, and based on pictures it seems like have similar architecture aside from the citadel. I hope that the damage to Aleppo can be brought under control and that Damascus doesn’t face similar damage to Aleppo. In Damascus, most of what at risk of being destroyed is being threatened by crossfire from the conflict in Syria, is this the case for Aleppo’s cultural heritage as well? Or are the structures being bombed on purpose for a more strategic reason?

    1. I think that these structures are victim to a combination of strategic bombing and random crossfire. Much of the ancient city houses politically important buildings used to this day so it makes sense that they could be targeted.

  5. You mention Sabloff’s view of war, but seem to exclude the portion where he points out that too much internal wars (such as civil wars) after the civilization building has been accomplished can lead to the destruction of that civilization. It’s a bit like a bell curve for war that he points out (on page 66).

    Also, props on the inclusion of the citadel as the first photo of the city on your page. It is so awe inspiring, it captures the audience’s attention about the unique nature of the site and perhaps creates a more sympathetic audience (who wouldn’t be at least a little sad that such an amazing part of human cultural heritage is in danger?(.

    1. Yeah Sabloff describing that even furthers the point of Aleppo unraveling! And thank you the Citadel is such an important part of Ancient Aleppo and I thought it was so unique. Before this project I have never seen anything like it I learned a lot!

  6. My site is also in Syria and is facing destruction from the civil war also. I like how you incorporated the picture that highlights the areas that have been destroyed in your site, it really highlights the destruction that conflict can cause.

    1. It is hard to pinpoint the potential percentage of damage because the battles are ongoing and Aleppo is still at high risk of attack.

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