History of Aleppo, between Anatolia and Mesopotamia

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Aleppo, a city so incredible as to be a long attend even higher than Damascus, the historic capital of all Syria

The words of Ibn Battuta (part I)

We went to Aleppo, a very large city and important capital which is described by Abu al Husayn ibn Jubayr as follows: “He holds a distinguished rank and enjoys undying fame. Many kings have the ambition to possess it and in many hearts it occupies a place of excellence. How many battles she has raised up, and how many shining swords have been drawn for her!


Its fortress is famous for being impregnable and very high, so inviolable that there is no one who wants – nor can – attack it. It has flanks in cut stone and was erected with balance and harmony so that, competing in duration with the days and the years, it accompanied the nobles and the vulgar to the grave!

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From Aleppo to Beroea

Compared to other cities in the area, Aleppo was less archaeological excavations were made, however the first remains of the city date back to 5000 BC, becoming, starting from 3000 BC, a constant presence on the maps of the area. The first kingdom to possess it was that of Yamhad which, from 1800 BC. to 1500 BC it distinguished itself as a “third pole” between the warlike Hittites in the north and the Egyptian power in the south, but was then conquered by the former and thus following its fate. After the Hittites came the Neo-Assyrians, then the Persians and finally Alexander the Great.


The current North of Syria became one of the places most colonized by the Hellenes, so much so that here they settled the settlement of Beroea, in which they developed some of the first hybrid political experiments between the Greek and the Eastern model. The city was then conquered by the Armenian king Tigrane II, later being incorporated into the Roman Empire, under which however it maintained a certain political and legislative autonomy. Under the Romans, Beroea became the second Syrian city after Antioch, at the time the third largest city in the Empire.

Inauspicious Middle Ages

At the beginning of the 7th century, the city was briefly conquered by the Sassanids, and was then taken by the Arabs in 637. Aleppo will then become the seat of the Shiite Hamdanid dynasty which will transform it into a real pearl of the region, attracting the great poet al Mutanabbi and the equally great mathematician al Farabi to his court. This dynasty will also play an important role in the balance of power between the Fatimids and the Byzantines. With the arrival of the Crusades, however, the city will undergo a period of deep suffering and continuous attacks between local dynasties and European invaders, also suffering, in 1138, the 6th deadliest earthquake in history.


From 1260 to 1280 Aleppo will experience one of the most dramatic periods in its history, due to the alliance between Mongols, crusaders and Armenians which will lead to continuous massacres of its Muslim and Jewish population, as well as the penetration of the first ones in the Middle East. The nomadic advance was stopped, with great difficulty, only by the Mamelukes of Baybars first and then Qalawun, who will reject there beyond the Euphrates; however, in the 1400s, Tamerlane would capture and exterminate all its inhabitants, marking the last great medieval massacre of the city.

Ottoman rebirth and fall

With the arrival of the Ottomans, starting from 1516, Aleppo was completely transformed, becoming for a long time second only to Istanbul for beauty and importance. Thanks to its strategic position within the Ottoman domains, it became the most important trading center of the East, so much so that many were to place their political offices here, even preferring it to Damascus. The incredible success, however, will begin to deteriorate starting from 1722, when the Safavid dynasty, with which Aleppo had intense trade, began to decline. Europeans, especially interested in Iranian precious fabrics, began to turn their attention to the Americas and this will mark the beginning of misfortunes for the city.


The latter had in fact to face epidemics of various kinds, Bedouin attacks and, above all, an incredible ascent of Damascus which in the 19th century even managed to overcome it in importance. However, the worst came with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which placed Aleppo in a very politically complex situation. With the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreements and the equally criminal Treaty of Sevres, it saw its geopolitical role completely upset, causing incredible inconvenience to the entire population. The city, in fact, had prospered precisely by virtue of the constant trade between Turkey and Mesopotamia, states that were instead transformed into autonomous entities due to the balkanization process due to the aforementioned agreements. With the subsequent Treaties of Lausanne, the situation worsened further for Aleppo, which lost much of its province to the newly formed Turkey, which, in 1939, also annexed Iskenderun, depriving the city of what for centuries had been “its port”.

The basis of modern Syrian politics

With their arrival, the French pursued their policy of divide and rule with great intensity, separating Aleppo from Damascus and trying to rekindle the tensions between the two cities in order to better control them. According to the transalpines, in fact, the former would have easily been able to become a rich country but dependent on Paris, however it was essential that it was part of a “Syrian federation” so as not to risk an economic default and a subsequent merger of the provinces. However, the European calculations turned out to be wrong and this sentiment never resurfaced in this center which, on the contrary, at the first opportunity decided to reunite with their brothers, then leading to the expulsion of the French from Syria.


The sown divisions, however, reappeared with great force once independence was achieved, transforming Aleppo and Damascus into two real poles of local political thought. The first wanted to reunite with Iraq and the Hashemite Kingdom, while the second looked with much more interest on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the new founders of the Arab League. From this tension three coups d’etat were born which were followed by a political landscape altered by the new political upheavals in the Middle East. As early as the 1950s, in fact, there is no longer any talk of kingdoms, both collapsed or close to doing so, but rather of ideologies: Nasserism and Ba’athism.

Until the 2000s

Having such movements overturned the ancient power of Egypt and Iraq, Aleppo found himself to become the center of Egyptian Nasserism, while Damascus of the Baath, which until 1963 saw its only center in Iraq. This upheaval of fronts will lead to various tensions in the country, unfortunately resolved by the coup d’état of the same year, which will bring Ba’ath to power first and Hafez al Assad later.

Assad statue in Aleppo before the Civil War

The new dictator was supported above all by the entrepreneurs of Damascus, who saw in him the possibility of centralizing the economic role of the capital, naturally to the detriment of the old rival. This led the government to marginalize the city more and more, laying the foundations of the Syrian civil war.

The words of Ibn Battuta

Where are the Hamdanid emirs and their poets now? All disappeared: only the buildings remain. What an amazing fact! The cities remain and their owners leave – when these perish, the ruin of the former is not yet decreed. After the time of the hamdanids, those who want to possess it can easily have it: just want it and you get it at minimal cost.


This is Aleppo. How many kings did he mention in the past tense and how many times “one adverb of place has resisted another of time”! Feminine in name, she has dressed up with the grace of the most beautiful women and like these she has deceived and given excuses. Ah, she shone as a new bride thanks to Sayfa al Dawla ibn Hamdan, but alas, her youth will vanish, there will be no longer those who long to possess her and soon, at least, she will be destroyed. ”

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