|Aleppo (Halab, Syria) Oriental city |
Aleppo, with some 1.5 million inhabitants, shows two faces: on the one hand, that of a traditional city of the Orient, and on the other, aspects of a modern western city. Oriental-Islamic features are dominant in the old city, with:
The Citadel as well as the Great Mosque and its associated religious schools (madrasahs) as the city's religious focal point and social/public meeting place;
The Souq (bazaar) as the traditional business centre the largest in the Orient, with 12 kilometres of mostly covered, shop-filled streets and;
Clearly separated from the Souq, the numerous religiously or ethnically defined residential quarters, which today even more than in the past are the main base for traditional trades and crafts (irregular cul-de-sac pattern; dense building marked by houses with inner courtyards).
The cul-de-sac character and ethnic-religious separation of the inhabitants also characterizes the older suburban districts (with their own bazaars) to the north and east of the old city. These developed around the most popular of the overland streets leading to Aleppo's city gates.
West of the old city are expansive residential districts, built between 1890 and 1930 on the model of contemporary European cities with a regular layout. Christians in particular moved here from the old city. Christian families have belonged to Aleppo's economic elite since time immemorial.
Today, broad streets cut through the older built-up areas, also penetrating into the old city district. A modern city with European-style shops, office blocks, hotels, travel agencies, cinemas, etc, has developed to the north-west of the old Jewish Quarter, continuing through this quarter in the direction of the old city. It has also expanded along a line towards the west. Near the city are important public buildings and institutions, including among others the main post office, the Aleppo Museum one of the most important in the Orient and bus stations for city and overland routes.
The city has grown enormously since 1945. Empty plots between the existing residential districts have been built over, and large parks laid out especially to the west of the old city. New districts, marked by their uniformity and the social homogeneity of their inhabitants, have emerged in the outer suburbs.
As a city, Aleppo has a long continuity. It had already come into existence as a residence city before the second millennium B.C. The Citadel, which dominates the cityscape, is one of the most famous examples of medieval fortification construction. Aleppo's location at the meeting point of important and very old trading routes between the Orient and Occident explains its outstanding importance as a trading city since antiquity. Ancient basic structures are also recognizable in the layout of the old city: today's Souq, between the Citadel and the B?b Antakiya (Gate of Antioch), is sited exactly on the location of the Hellenistic rebuilding with its regular street pattern.
The process of westernization, especially since 1945, has effected a rapid change in the city's spatial and social structure. Although the Souq, with its thousands of tiny one-storey shops, is still a scene of bustling activity, almost nothing is manufactured anymore. The trades and crafts that were traditionally combined with trading in a single operation have largely been expelled to the edge of the Souq or into the residential districts of the old city, where commercial courtyards already existed before 1918.
Many branches of wholesale trade, which like the banking and publishing trades had its traditional base in the khans, have also departed (khans are shops and warehouses around an open courtyard, with accommodation for visiting traders together with their goods and beasts of burden). Today, khans are mostly used as workshops and as storage space for less bulky goods. More bulky and less valuable goods are stored in areas near the edge of the city which are easier to reach by lorry. The Souq today is only used as a business centre by the more traditionally-minded population from the lower and middle income classes. The socially better-off Syrians shop in the modern shopping centre.
Profound changes have also taken place in the residential parts of the old city. With the departure of the upper class and sections of the middle class to the new residential districts on the city edge, its social standing has declined considerably. The old city's simple residential districts have become the home for immigrants from smaller towns.
It remains to be seen how far Aleppo can succeed in solving the problems of urban planning and urban development arising from its rapid growth without losing face. In the past there was too great a readiness to tear down old buildings, even in the historic old city, to make room for through streets and districts with modern architecture.
M. Kunzendorf; Ü: John Attfield
Keywords: bazaar church city core city wall inner city mosque old city oriental city Syria urban reconstruction urban renovation
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