City of Aleppo

Now that I am on vacation, I have more free time than originally thought and thus am presenting another ARCHAEO-Crush for December. My crush is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is a city that we see constantly in the news these days… all for the wrong reasons. Aleppo.

Type: archaeological site (urban)
Civilisation: Ancient and modern Syria, various empires and kingdoms
Date: At least from the 3rd millennium B.C.E. to today

ARCHAEO-Crush: Strategically placed for commercial and military endeavours between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, the city has had a long history probably going back 5,000 years and has been known under various names. Having been occupied continually, there has been very little archaeological excavations in the city proper. In the 3rd millennium, it was part of the Kingdom of Amri as well as the Akkadian and Amorite empires; it was also mentioned in cuneiform tablets from Ebla. During its long history, Aleppo was taken by the Hittites, conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and handed over to the Seleucids after his death. Aleppo flourished during the Hellenistic period and its prosperity increases even when Syria becomes a Roman province in 64 B.C.E.  The city remained important during the Byzantine period and lived on beyond the fall of Antiquity (end of the 5th century).

During the Middle Ages, the city was conquered by the Arabs in 637 and became the capital of the Hamdanids in 944. Aleppo was besieged (but not conquered) during the Crusades and was in turn in the hands of the Fatimids, Seljuks, of Zengi, Nur ad-Din and Saladin, of the Mongols, Mamluks, and Tamerlan prior to being annexed to the Ottoman Empire in 1516 (until 1918). Aleppo was under French mandate before it declared its independence in 1944.

Bucket list status: I visited Syria in 1999 and Aleppo was on my list of cities to visit during my trip. I had studied the architecture of this city in Islamic architecture during my undergrad at Université Laval and was fascinated by the Aleppo Citadel. I just had to go see it… which I did (that is why many the photos presented here are of the Citadel).  It is fortified Medieval castle dating to 1230, featuring an imposing entrance with an impressive bridge/staircase. Unfortunately, this feature was destroyed by rebel bombardments in the summer of 2014. While in Aleppo, I had to stay at the Baron’s Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote (in part) Murder on the Orient Express and where Lawrence of Arabia also stayed. I thoroughly enjoyed Aleppo and Syria, the fabulous archaeological sites, the historic monuments, the wonderful people and the stunning landscapes.

Additional information: The historic centre of Aleppo is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986 (number 21). Its recent destruction is all the more devastating. It is absolutely heart-breaking to see a city and its population being massacred… Aleppo is now on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013.


My ARCHAEO-Crush for the month of April is a wonderful site in Syria that has suffered tremendously in the last year and has been in the media a lot recently.


Type: site (ancient city with various monuments)
Civilisation: Ancient Syria (part of/controlled by various empires during its long history)
Date: Bronze Age to Middle Ages, 2nd millennium BCE to 1st millennium CE

ARCHAEO-Crush: Palmyra is a ancient city in an oasis in the middle of the Syrian Desert.  The Romans were the ones to give the city its name in the 1st century BCE, but the site is also known as Tadmor and it predates the Roman period. In the 19th century BCE, the city is mentioned in tablets from Mari (another Syrian city) as a stop for trade caravans and nomads. Indeed, due to its location (between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates), Palmyra connected the Roman world and Mesopotamia and became a wealthy city on the route between the East and West.
There are fantastic ruins in Palmyra: the Grand Colonnade, Triumphal Arch, various temples (to Bel and Baal-Shamin, for example), an agora, a senate house, a theatre, tower tombs and even Christian churches. There are also baths, which date to the rule of Diocletian but are labelled “bathes of Zenobia” on the signposts. Actually, Zenobia is one of the famous personalities of Palmyra. She was the second wife of Odaenathus, Rome’s client ruler of Palmyra. When her husband and his son from a previous marriage  were assassinated, she became the regent of her very young son and declared herself queen of Palmyra (some say she was behind the murder). However, Zenobia had no desire to remain a client of Rome: in 269 CE she seized Egypt, then conquered much of Asia Minor and declared her independence from Rome. Emperor Aurelian defeated her armies in Antioch (Turkey) and Zenobia was captured.  Palmyra’s prosperity declined after her death (sources differ about the rebellious queen’s actual fate). The city was taken in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, in 634 and was ruined by an earthquake in 1089.

Bucket list status: I was tremendously fortunate to vacation in Syria after the dig at Madaba, Jordan, back in 1999. Syria is spectacularly beautiful… and I had a fabulous time at Palmyra.
Additional information: Palmyra has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage since 1980 (no. 23) and was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2013. Unfortunately, several monuments in my pictures were destroyed by ISIL in 2015.  You can find heartbreaking before and after photos of the monuments here.  You can also read ASOR’s Cultural Initiative Special Report on Palmyra.