Old Aleppo, frontline ghost town of ruined treasures

Sun Dec 30, 2012 5:01am EST
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By Yara Bayoumy

ALEPPO, Syria (Reuters) - A 13th century mosque is shuttered, its tottering minaret struck at the base by a shell. Snipers fire from nests atop the immense stone walls of the citadel, where ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Turkish warriors once perched.

Until a few months ago, Old Aleppo was both a living museum and a breathing city, where souk shoppers haggled over spices, books and olive-oil soap beneath wrought-iron filigree balconies and wooden lattice screens.

Aleppo is Syria's largest city and economic hub. Its old district, with towering fortifications built by the medieval dynasty of Saladin after his 12th century victory over the crusaders, is also a UNESCO heritage site, its architecture declared a marvel of human achievement by the United Nations cultural body.

Today it is a war zone and a ruin. Corrugated iron sheets pocked with bullet holes cover alleyways housing shuttered, burnt or demolished market stalls. Rebel fighters zigzag around in cars blasting revolutionary music.

"Old Aleppo was the foundation of this world," said Haj Amer, who owns a printing press in the old bazaar. "What really upset us are the mosques that were destroyed."

"This area is my roots, my life since 1975," he added. "I'll always stay."

Syria's civil war has killed an estimated 44,000 people and driven half a million from their homes. It reached Aleppo with full wrath six months ago, and though rebels now control much of the city, parts of it remain a battleground.

U.N. officials who declared Old Aleppo a heritage site have catalogued some of the wonders to be found here.   Continued...

Mannequins are set up to confuse snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the old city of Aleppo December 23, 2012. Picture taken December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Aref Heretani