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!

Aleppo

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!

(continue at the end of the article)

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.

Aleppo

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, then taken by the Arabs in 637. Aleppo would then become the seat of the Shiite Hamdanid dynasty which would transform it into a real pearl of the region, attracting to its court also the great poet to Mutanabbi and the equally great mathematician to Farabi. 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 suffer a period of profound suffering and continuous attacks between local dynasties and European invaders, also suffering, in 1138, the 6th most deadly earthquake in history.

Aleppo

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.

Aleppo

The latter had to face various epidemics, 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 complex political situation. With the notorious Sykes-Picot Accords and the equally criminal Treaty of Sevres, it saw its geopolitical role completely distorted, 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 which instead were transformed into autonomous entities due to the balkanization process due to the aforementioned agreements. With the subsequent Lausanne Treaties, the situation worsened further for Aleppo, who lost much of his province in favor of the newly formed Turkey, which, in 1939, also annexed Iskenderun, depriving the city of what had for centuries been “his port”.

The basis of modern Syrian politics

With their arrival, the French pursued their dividi et impera policy 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 been easily able to become a rich country but dependent on Paris, however it was fundamental 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 incorrect and this feeling never surfaced in this center which, on the contrary, at the first opportunity decided to reunite with its brothers, then leading to the expulsion of the French from Syria.

Aleppo

The divisions sown, however, reappeared with great force once independence was achieved, transforming Aleppo and Damascus into two real poles of local political thought. The former wanted to reunite with Iraq and the Hashemite Kingdom, while the latter looked with much more interest at Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the neo-founders of the Arab League. As a result of this tension, 3 coups were born which were followed by a political landscape altered by new political upheavals in the Middle East. As early as the 1950s, in fact, we no longer speak of kingdoms, both collapsed or close to doing it, but rather of ideologies: Nasserism and Baathism.

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.

Aleppo
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! Cities remain and their owners leave – when they perish, the ruin of the former is not yet decreed. After the time of the Hamdanids, those who want to own it can have it easily: just want it and you get it at minimal cost.

Aleppo

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

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