The city surrounded a monumental medieval Citadel which looked like a hillside acropolis, the intellectual centre of traditional Syrian architecture, science, poetry, cuisine, music and crafts. The relics of ancient civilisations lay in the remains of madrasas-religious school, palace and bathhouses. The early Graeco-Roman streets showed C6th Christian buildings, medieval walls and gates, Mameluke mosques, and later Ottoman mosques and palaces. The Citadel reflected C12th-14th Arab military might.
On the crossroads of some trade routes, Aleppo was ruled successively by the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans, each leaving their mark. See the C12th Great Mosque founded under the Umayyads and rebuilt. See the C12th Madrasa Halawiye, which incorporated remains of Aleppo's Great Cathedral of St Helena. The mosques, madrasas, suqs and khans beautifully reflected the social, cultural and economic aspects of that very rich city.
Before the recent Syrian Civil War, these 13th and C14th religious and commercial buildings gave well preserved examples of medieval Islamic architecture which came from its historical heritage, covering varied nationalities and beliefs. Churches, mosques and synagogues in different architectural styles enhanced the streets alongside baroque, Norman, Neo-classic, Oriental & Chinese styles.
Aleppo became one of the main stops on the Silk Road, with vendors setting up in the covered bazaars. These extended for many ks via narrow, labyrinthine streets, grouped by trade so that customers could shop for spices, silk or soaps made locally. Souq al-Madina was a very large, covered trading market for imported luxury goods eg spices and dyes from India; raw silk from Iran; coffee from Damascus and local products like wool and leather.
Aleppo’s Great Synagogue embodied the once-thriving Jewish community. Built in C5th AD, it lasted until recently when the last Jews were exiled. Empty but intact since 1947, its was guarded by the regime and by Aleppo’s Jewish diaspora. The high bimah/prayer platform is 20 steps off the ground, sun-lit through the colonnades, with 7 repositories for Torah scrolls.
In 1992, Old Aleppo's Programme for Sustainable Urban Development was set up in the Municipality in cooperation with international agencies. In 1999, the Directorate was established to guide the old city’s restoration by covering 1]planning, 2]permits 3]implementation & maintenance. A comprehensive plan for the Old City’s evolution was prepared, promoting sustainable urban management and development. Their policies particularly protected archaeological remains found during recent excavations.
Since UNESCO’s coverage, conservation efforts in the Old City have focused on the dominant Citadel, preserving the stunning historical value. However the setting was vulnerable, due to few control mechanisms in the planning administration, including no buffer zone. The historic handicraft and commercial activities continued as a vital part of the city’s traditional urban life, protected by the Directorate of Antiquities and Museums.
Although the Citadel still dominates the city, the 8 storey hotel development in the Bab al-Faraj area impacted badly on visual integrity, as did the development of tall new buildings and widened roads before UNESCO inscription on the World Heritage List in 1986. Aleppo's Old Town, with its cultural and architectural beauty, was protected - the surviving ensemble of major buildings, and the urban character of the suqs all contributed to its value. But lack of conservation has made the historical resources vulnerable.