General view of the  Ancient City of Aleppo towards its  Umayyad Mosque

Geography and History of The City:

Aleppo is located north of Syria. It is at a distance of about 100 km from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and about 50 km from the Turkish borders to the North.

The Ancient city of Aleppo with an area of 355 Hectares and with its famous castle is an eloquent testimony to the settlement of an Islamic prosperous society. There are more than 150 important antiquities that represent different human civilizations and ages. Moreover, the city is full of western and western architectural styles from the early and mid-twentieth century. This combination has created a unique cultural mosaic of global historical, artistic and scientific value.

Its unique location and the combination of several factors such as terrain, agriculture, and a vibrant population make Aleppo control most of the global trade of this part of the world. In and around Aleppo, monuments and archaeological sites are scattered that show the architecture, life and way of life of successive local civilizations.

The history of Aleppo dates back to the 20th century BC, when an Amorite kingdom was established and named as Yamhad. It had intimate relations with Mari, Qatana and Karkemish. At the end of the 17th century Bc, the Hittite king Mursilis destroyed Aleppo when he took over the north of Syria. After that, the Hittites and the Mitannians dominated it alternately before it became under the control of the Hittites in 1430 BC. This domination ended after the control of the Hittites on Anatolia in the 13th century BC.

The city was ignored after that, when the Aramaic, Assyrians and Persians spread their control on the region till the establishment of the Seleucid state, when Seleucus I Nicator built Macedonian colony named “Beriya” in Aleppo, even though it had no strategic significance to the Seleucids, but the young city had made use of the flourish of the main cities as Antakya, Apamea, Latakia and Saluqya and became an important commercial center at the North and East of Syria.

The Romans seized the Levant in 64 BC, where Aleppo enjoyed a long period of peace under their authority, they established markets with large public square and a wide street with a portico on both sides. The prosperity of the city continued during the Byzantine era, when there was a large, ancient Christian community, and many Jews and others settled there, so that the city enjoyed a successful and prosperous economic life.

The Persian invasion in 540 AD dealt a fatal blow to Aleppo, as the Persians burned the city, but the citadel in which the people sought refuge was proven to be attacked by the invaders. The Roman Emperor Justinian I rebuilt its defensive sites and built a beautiful cathedral there, but the constant threat of the Persians prevented the city from flourishing again.

In the year 16 AH / 637AD, the Muslim forces led by Abū ‘Ubaydah  ibn al-Jarāḥ arrived at the suburbs of Aleppo, and besieged it, and it was not long before its people sought peace and security, and they gave that. Aleppo and Qansrin were added to the Soldiers of Homs, when the Levant was divided into soldiers at the hands of Caliph ʻUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb. Aleppo did not have an administrative and political affair during the Umayyad era, although Ibn al-ʿAdīm mentions that Caliphate – Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik built the first mosque in Aleppo, and it is said that it was comparable to the Damascus Mosque in terms of the splendor of its decorations and inscriptions and that the Caliphate tried to be equivalent to the work of his brother in Damascus. With the transfer of power to the Abbasids, Damascus lost its position as the capital of the Islamic State and declined economically, but Aleppo began to increase its importance gradually until it became one of the most important cities in northern Syria in the Abbasid era. In the second half of the third century AH, Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn taken it to his Egyptian governorship, and then Aleppo returned to the Caliphate in 284 AH. In the year 325 AH / 936 CE, it entered the Levant within the works of the governor of Egypt, known as al-Ikhshid.

General view of the  Ancient City of Aleppo towards its Citadel

The Bimaristan of Aragon

Al-Qaymariya neighborhood in the  Ancient City of Damascus

The importance of Aleppo returned again with the entry of Sayf al-Dawla in 333 AH / 944 CE. Aleppo became the center of the Hamdanid emirate whose rule extended from 333-394 AH / 944-1003AD, and it became the most important city in the north of the Levant, as Saif al-Dawla occupied himself in jihad against the increasingly powerful empire, Naqfur was able in 351 AH / 962 CE to seize the city of Aleppo without its castle, he plundered the city, killed people, burned mosques, and collected large quantities of spoils and large numbers of prisoners, then retreated to his country. The princes of Aleppo continued to pay tribute during the days of the Mirdasid state 1023-1079 CE, but the city returned and prospered as a result of the expanding commercial activity, as the trade in the Levant, Romans, Diyarbakir, Egypt and Iraq was passing through, which led to the spread of wealth and prosperity in the city.

Imad al-Din Zangi, who ruled the Mosul, seized Aleppo in the year 522 AH, restoring security and stability to it. He made Aleppo a prosperous city, rebuilding the walls, restoring the citadel and the great mosque, rebuilding the markets, repairing the canals, and building a bimaristan, a house of justice, and a number of mdrassas in which he entrusted the teaching of the Hanafi and Shafi’i scholars.


Stone alleys of the Ancient City of Aleppo

Al Sultania Mosque as it looks from Aleppo citadel

Fardows Madrassa

Aleppo was occupied by the Ottomans after the Battle of Marj Dābiq in 922 AH / 1516 CE, and it remained the capital as it was during the Mamluk era.

Aleppo, like other  cities during the era of the Ottomans, suffered from the taxes and the problems stemming from the oppression of the Ottomans and their military divisions, yet it maintained its commercial importance, and developed such that it became at one time the main market for the whole East. But it began to decline since 1775 AD due to corruption in the administration, the occurrence of the earthquake in 1822 AD that demolished the greater part of the city, the change of global trade routes and the loss of much of its importance to the East.

The Egyptians seized Aleppo from 1831 to 1839, and Ibrahim Pasha burdened the city with the taxes that he imposed for the benefit of his armies and the monopoly system, however this period paved the way for effective changes in the second half of the nineteenth century on social, administrative and economic life. Aleppo was connected to Hama and Damascus by a railway in 1906 AD, and to Istanbul and Europe in 1912 AD by the Eastern Express train. Aleppo remained subordinate to the Ottoman Empire until the end of the First World War 1918.

The old part of the city occupies the lower part in the middle of the city, and it reflects with its historical features that most of the buildings in it are built with Aleppine stones famous for their gray color, which is attributed to him, as is said the name Aleppo al-Shahba: In addition to the covered markets similar to the old markets of Damascus, this old section includes all of the following neighborhoods: al-Kallasa, Bab al-Nayrab, al-Mashareqah, Qastal al-Hajarine, and al-Suwayqa. They all share the form of narrow alleys and narrow houses with shutters and balconies and wooden facades that are viewed from the outside through small windows. The commercial prosperity that Aleppo enjoyed for a long time was evidenced by the increase in the number of its markets and khans that were built for the establishment of foreign merchants, and these Ottoman khans still maintained their structure.

The governors paid great attention to building madrassas and large mosques according to the Istanbul engineering method, such as  Khusraw Pasha Mosque, Bahram Pasha Mosque, al-Ahmadiyah Madrasa, al-Shibani and Osman Pasha madrassa.

Stone alleys of the Ancient City of Aleppo

A snapshot from inside the Umayyad Mosque in  the  Ancient City of Aleppo showing the minaret

Al- Halawiyah Madrasa

It is built in 1124 on the site of Aleppo’s Great Byzantine Cathedral of Saint Helena of the 5th century, where, according to tradition, a Roman temple once stood. When the Franks besieged the city, the residents, led by Judge Ibn al-Khashshāb, responded to this siege by converting four churches into mosques in the early 6th / 12th century. Adding a mihrab to a wall facing the qibla to indicate the direction of prayer was the method chosen for transforming the building. When Aleppo entered under the rule of Nur al-Din, he followed what Ibn al-Khashshāb had started, and converted the mosque into a religious school which he called the Halawiyah school in AH 543 / AD 1149.

The minaret of the Umayyad Mosque:

The minaret is considered a wonderful example of stone architecture during the fifth / eleventh century in Syria and was ordered by one of the notables of Aleppo, al-Qadi ibn al-Khashshāb. The minaret shows a continuation of Aleppine architecture traditions. Historical sources mention that Ibn al-Khashshāb took the initiative to rebuild the minaret, which therefore does not bear the influence of the Turkish taste, but rather the Arab-Aleppo taste.

The minaret is made of limestone, and its base is a square, measuring 4.95 m 2, and a height of 45 m. It has 140 rotating steps that extend over its entire height until it reaches the muezzin’s balcony. The minaret consists of six floors, the exterior decoration is divided in succession into five horizontal fields, and it is surmounted by a wooden dome-shaped canopy. Writings in the elegant Kufic and third lines used during the Atabeg period were engraved on stone at every level.

Outstanding Universal Value

Located at the crossroads of several trade routes since the 2nd millennium B.C., Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans who left their stamp on the city. The Citadel, the 12th-century Great Mosque and various 16th and 17th-centuries madrasas, residences, khans and public baths, all form part of the city’s cohesive, unique urban fabric.

The monumental Citadel of Aleppo, rising above the suqs, mosques and madrasas of the old walled city, is testament to Arab military might from the 12th to the 14th centuries. With evidence of past occupation by civilizations dating back to the 10th century B.C., the citadel contains the remains of mosques, palace and bath buildings. The walled city that grew up around the citadel bears evidence of the early Graeco-Roman street layout and contains remnants of 6th century Christian buildings, medieval walls and gates, mosques and madrasas relating to the Ayyubid and Mameluke development of the city, and later mosques and palaces of the Ottoman period. Outside the walls, the Bab al-Faraj quarter to the North-West, the Jdeide area to the north and other areas to the south and west, contemporary with these periods of occupation of the walled city contain important religious buildings and residences.

The Citadel of Aleppo is considered one of the architectural masterpieces among the Islamic castles, and the natural hill on which the castle was built was previously used for a long time as a fortress or stronghold, and it contains evidence of the existence of a Hittite temple dating back to the first millennium BC, and during the Hamdani rule of Aleppo in the period of Saif al-Dawla in the century The fourth / tenth century, the construction of the citadel was commenced, and Nur al-Din rebuilt the inner part and the fortress of the castle’s defenses when he ruled Aleppo in the early sixth century AH / twelfth CE. The expansion work carried out by him included the construction of the Maqam of Ibrahim, an important shrine associated with the Prophet Ibrahim. However, most of the remaining sections to this day date back to the period of al-Malik al-Zahir Ghazi, one of the sons of Saladin, who ruled from 582-613 / 1186-1216. He ordered the trench to be dug up to 22 AD, and built the magnificent bridge, the castle slopes of impregnable stone, the large towers, and the astonishing gate designed to prevent the arrival of any enemy that could approach the castle.

General view of the  Ancient City of Aleppo towards its Citadel

Alleys in  the  Ancient City of Damascus

  • Registration Criterions to the UNESCO WHL (1980)Criterion (iii):

    The old city of Aleppo reflects the rich and diverse cultures of its successive occupants. Many periods of history have left their influence in the architectural fabric of the city. Remains of Hittite, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ayyubid structures and elements are incorporated in the massive surviving Citadel. The diverse mixture of buildings including the Great Mosque founded under the Umayyads and rebuilt in the 12th century; the 12th century Madrasa Halawiye, which incorporates remains of Aleppo’s Christian cathedral, together with other mosques and madrasas, suqs and khans represents an exceptional reflection of the social, cultural and economic aspects of what was once one of the richest cities of all humanity.Criterion (iv): Aleppo is an outstanding example of an Ayyubid 12th century city with its military fortifications constructed as its focal point following the success of Salah El-Din against the Crusaders. The encircling ditch and defensive wall above a massive, sloping, stone-faced glacis, and the great gateway with its machicolations comprise a major ensemble of military architecture at the height of Arab dominance. Works of the 13th-14th centuries including the great towers and the stone entry bridge reinforce the architectural quality of this ensemble. Surrounding the citadel within the city are numerous mosques from the same period including the Madrasah al Firdows, constructed by Daifa Khatoun in 1235.Arch. Lina KutiefanResources:


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