41 images Created 4 Apr 2015
Life in Aleppo before the war
Aleppo, much like Damascus, vies for the title of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city. It has an equally long but distinct history. Aleppo was a trading centre, which rose and fell under successive empires. It was inhabited as far back as 6000BC, but as in Damascus, the history lies underneath the current city, making excavations difficult. However, records from other cities make reference to Aleppo, which was thriving as a commercial centre in the 17th and 16th C BC. Over the years, it fell to the Hittites, Seleucids, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols and Ottomans. It also saw many devastating earthquakes, including the 4th deadliest earthquake ever, which struck 11 October 1138, measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale and killing upwards of 230,000 people. When I visited in 2009, the city was a quite magical place, imbued with history. Its personality seemed to lie in its meandering alleyways, archways, and cobblestone streets. History felt more preserved there than in Damascus, despite it being a large city. Traditional olive oil soap – the first bar soap ever invented – was still made there and sold in the market place in different grades. The souk was lively and bustling, full of artisans and fabrics, spices and fragrances, teashops and courtyards, shisha pipes and daily provisions. Within the Old City, the citadel sat high on a hill, a fortress originally built by the Seleucids but reinforced by later conquerors, particularly the Mamluk. A view from the top afforded great views over the city’s old and modern areas, which comfortably merged together. And it was near the Citadel early one morning that I was invited inside a bread factory. Throughout Syria, flatbread is the staple food for all meals. In the countryside, it is baked traditionally in an outdoor clay oven. In the city, it is often made in small neighbourhood factories. Although the streets are quiet in the early hours (the markets are not yet open; the people still at home) the bread factories are full of life. Having photographed the eerily quiet streets, I was suddenly in the action in a bread factory: meeting the people and seeing the machines that shaped, flattened, and baked the bread before it was cooled on a conveyor belt that delivered it to a room where it would be weighed and sold to the hungry masses. When the bread was almost ready, a crowd had formed at the sales window, as I sat inside sipping tea. They pressed up against the window, all trying to reach in with their money to be the first to get some bread. As the flatbreads began to come into the room on the conveyor belt, a man set down his cigarette and tea and began to pile them on the traditional scale, handing stacks of bread out the window and grabbing money from outstretched arms. Outside, more people arrived, parked bikes, and pressed up against the window, as others – such as the two boys in my final photograph – walked home with piles of fresh bread in their arms, in baskets, or balanced on their heads.