By John Waters
For 4 years the Syrian city of Aleppo was at the centre of a drawn out battle between government forces and rebel fighters such as the Free Syrian Army and the YPG militia. The city, a UNESCO world heritage site, sustained heavy damage and was largely cut off from basic food and medical supplies. Now, two years after government troops drove rebel fighters out of the city, the first book detailing the damage done to the Ancient city has been published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The Syrian civil war broke out in 2011 and continues to this day. The battle of Aleppo took place from 2012-16.
Entitled “Five Years of Conflict: The State of Cultural Heritage in the Ancient City of Aleppo,” the book provides a detailed analysis of the damage sustained to various parts of the city, including many of its oldest buildings. In total, 518 properties have been assessed, including the old citadel and the grand mosque, which date back to the 2nd century BC.
Initial assessment was done through analyzing satellite imagery, before historians and archeologists were able to visit the sites in order to make closer examination. A timeline of the battle of Aleppo is also provided, as well as a brief history of the city itself. The first recorded settlements in Aleppo date back to 5000 BC. Over the centuries the city has been part of Alexander the Great’s empire as well as the Roman province and the Persian territories. The city has witnessed the rise of both Christianity and Islam. It was also once the capital of the State of Aleppo before becoming part of modern day Syria.
According to UNESCO director Audrey Azoulay, who wrote one the forwards in the book, Aleppo was one of 6 Syrian heritage sites added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage in Danger. She notes, as the book goes on to detail, that Aleppo “Was once recognized as a best practice example in the field of urban conservation. Today it lies largely in ruins, with its invaluable centuries old landmarks and cultural manifestations severely damaged or destroyed.”
The properties listed in the book include museums, marketplaces, places of worship and other historic buildings. The book concludes with an appeal to restore the cultural heritage of Aleppo “As part of the process of healing communities in the wake of a crisis.”