Aleppo’s History Lost in the Fighting

A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows a Syrian man searching for the people after an explosion in Aleppo on 9 september 2012. (Photo: AFP/SANA)

By: Wissam Kanaan

Published Saturday, October 6, 2012

In the gardens of the National Museum in Damascus, a number of activists gather on a regular basis. They discuss their concerns and try to think of ways to protect their country’s ancient heritage. They know that the wildfires of war are spreading unstoppably. All they can do is to try to carefully document the archaeological sites being destroyed.

One of the group insists that the destruction in Aleppo is far greater than what is reported in the media, backed by the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums in Syria. The list begins with “the mortar shells that struck the gate of the famous citadel in Aleppo and continues with the bombings that took place a few days ago. It is fortunate that the National Museum in Aleppo has not received a direct hit, despite the fact that it is not that far away from the site of the explosions in al-Jamiliyya.” He quickly adds: “This does not mean that it is safe, because all of Syria is in danger, but Aleppo most of all, and particularly the archaeological sites where the armed men seek refuge, using the ruins as barricades in the hope that they will protect them from the Syrian army’s gunfire, but they do not.”

He continues: “The rare pieces in Aleppo are not safe, because according to official sources, they have been moved to unknown locations to keep them out of harm’s way. They have round the clock heavy protection.” However, he points out that “these artifacts were not electronically logged in accordance with the usual procedures. Even their photographs have not been logged. This means that the loss of any piece will not be discovered.”

Our source believes that the statements made by the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums claiming that only 150 shops were burned down are false. He insists that the shelling and the fire that started in Aleppo’s old souks destroyed 1500 out of 1600 shops. He says that the Atma, Attarin and Ubaji souks were all damaged and so was the Khan al-Nahassin. The planning for the ancient souks of Aleppo began during the Byzantine period. They were built and expanded during the Islamic Era and are some of the city’s most important landmarks.

Our source also says that even churches and mosques have not been escaped the destruction. He believes that the Syriac church in Aleppo, the thirteenth century Mihmindar mosque and the eighteenth century Ottoman Ismailiyya mosque were all burned down intentionally. The old Dar Zamarayya, one of the finest examples of Ottoman palaces in the city, was completely destroyed. Sites outside the city, such as Bab Qinnasrin, 25 km from Aleppo, were also damaged. The archaeological site of the Aramaic kingdom of Arpad, constructed in the second millennium BC, was also damaged. The site is in the countryside around Aleppo in the area of Tall Rifaat.

Along with the countless lives the war is taking, the capital of the north is losing its heritage and history as the devastation rages on.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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