Aleppo (حلب ['ħalab], ) is a city in northern Syria, capital of the Aleppo Governorate; the Governorate extends around the city for over 16,000 km² and has a population of 4,393,000, making it the largest Governorate in Syria (followed by Damascus). Aleppo is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world; it knew human settlement since the eleventh millennium B.C. through the residential houses that were discovered in Tell Qaramel. It was known to antiquity as Khalpe, Khalibon, to the Greeks as Beroea, and to the Turks as Halep. During the Crusades, and again during the French Mandate, the name Alep was used: "Aleppo" is an Italianised version of this. It occupies a strategic trading point midway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Euphrates. Initially, Aleppo was built on a small group of hills surrounding the prominent hill where the castle is erected. The small river Quwēq (قواق) runs through the city.
The main role of the city was as a trading place, as it sat at the crossroads of two trade routes and mediated the trade from India, the Tigris and Euphrates regions and the route coming from Damascus in the South, which traced the base of the mountains rather than the rugged seacoast. Although trade was often directed away from the city for political reasons, it continued to thrive until the Europeans began to use the Cape route to India and later to utilize the route through Egypt to the Red Sea. Since then the city has declined and its chief exports now are the agricultural products of the surrounding region, mainly wheat, cotton, pistachios, olives, and sheep.
Because the modern city occupies its ancient site, Aleppo has scarcely been touched by archaeologists. The site has been occupied from around 5000 BC, as excavations in Tallet Alsauda show. It grew as the capital of the kingdom of Yamkhad until the ruling Amorite Dynasty was overthrown around 1600 BC. The city remained under Hittite control until perhaps 800 BC before passing through the hands of the Assyrians and the Persian Empire and being captured by the Greeks in 333 BC, when Seleucus Nicator renamed the settlement Beroea, after Beroea in Macedon. The city remained in Greek or Seleucid hands until 64 BC, when Syria was conquered by the Romans.
The city remained part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire before falling to Arabs under Khalid ibn al-Walid in 637. In 944, it became the seat of an independent Emirate under the Hamdanid prince Sayf al-Daula, and enjoyed a period of great prosperity, being home to the great poet al-Mutanabbi and the philosopher and polymath al-Farabi. The city was sacked by a resurgent Byzantine Empire in 962, while Byzantine forces occupied it briefly from 974 to 987. The city and its Emirate became an Imperial vassal until the Byzantine-Seljuk Wars. The city was twice besieged by Crusaders — in 1098 and in 1124 — but was not conquered.
On August 9, 1138, a deadly earthquake ravaged the city and the surrounding area. Although estimates from this time are very unreliable, it is believed that 230,000 people died, making it the fourth deadliest earthquake in recorded history.
On January 24, 1260 the city was taken by the Mongols under Hulagu in alliance with their vassals the Frank knights of the ruler of Antioch Bohemond VI and his father-in-law the Armenian ruler Hetoum I. The city was bravely defended by Turanshah, but the walls fell after six days of bombardment, and the citadel fell four weeks later. The Muslim population was massacred, though the Christians were spared. Turanshah was shown unusual respect by the Mongols, and was allowed to live because of his age and bravery. The city was then given to the former Emir of Homs, al-Ashraf, and a Mongol garrison was established in the city. Some of the spoils were also given to Hethoum I for his assistance in the attack. The Mongol Army then continued on to Damascus, which surrendered, and the Mongols entered the city on March 1, 1260.
In September, the Egyptian Mamluks negotiated a treaty with the Franks of Acre which allowed them to pass through Crusader territory unmolested, and engaged the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut on September 3, 1260. The Mamluks won a decisive victory, killing the Mongols' Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa, and five days later they had re-taken Damascus. Aleppo was recovered by the Muslims within a month, and a Mamluk governor placed to govern the city. Hulagu sent troops to try and recover Aleppo in December. They were able to massacre a large number of Muslims in retaliation for the death of Kitbuqa, but after a fortnight could make no other progress and had to retreat.
The Mamluk governor of the city became insubordinate to the central Mamluk authority in Cairo, and in Autumn 1261 the Mamluk leader Baibars send an army to reclaim the city. In October 1271, the Mongols took the city again, attacking with 10,000 horsemen from Anatolia, and defeating the Turcoman troops who were defending Aleppo. The Mamluk garrisons fled to Hama, until Baibars came north again with his main army, and the Mongols retreated.
On October 20, 1280, the Mongols took the city again, pillaging the markets and burning the mosques. The Muslim inhabitants fled for Damascus, where the Mamluk leader Qalawun assembled his forces. When his army advanced, the Mongols again retreated, back across the Euphrates. Aleppo returned to native control in 1317,.
In 1400, the Mongol leader Tamerlane captured the city again from the Mamluks.. He massacred many of the inhabitants, infamously ordering the building of a tower of 20,000 skulls outside the city.
The city became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, when the city had around 50,000 inhabitants. Reference is made to the city in 1606 in William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth.' The witches torment the captain of the ship the Tiger which was headed to Aleppo from England but endured a 567 day voyage before returning unsuccessfully to port.
The city remained Ottoman until the empire's collapse, but was occasionally riven with internal feuds as well as attacks of the plague and later cholera from 1823. By 1901 its population was around 125,000. The city revived when it came under French colonial rule but slumped again following the decision to give Antioch to Turkey in 1938-1939.
There is a relatively clear division between old and new Aleppo. The older portions were contained within a wall, 5 km in circuit with seven gates. The huge medieval castle in the city - known as the Citadel of Aleppo - occupies the center of the city.
As an ancient trading centre, Aleppo also has impressive suqs (shopping streets) and khans (commercial courtyards). The city was significantly redesigned after World War II; in 1952 the French architect Andre Gutton had a number of wide new roads cut through the city to allow easier passage for modern traffic. In the 1970s, large parts of the older city were demolished to allow for the construction of modern apartment blocks.
Nearly three quarters, or 70% of Aleppo's inhabitants are Sunni Muslims, mainly Arabs, but also Kurds, and other ethnicities, including Adyghe, Albanians, Aramean-Syriacs, Bosnians, Bulgars, Chechens, Circassians, Kabardins, and Turks. Aleppo has the largest Christian community in the Middle East after Beirut, Lebanon, and the most diverse Christian community in the Orient. Between 15% and 20% of the population are members of Orthodox congregations, particularly the Armenian and Syriac Orthodox Church, many denominations of Christians have congregations in Aleppo.
The city has had a large Jewish population since the time of King David. The great synagogue housed the 10th century AD Aleppo codex. That codex is now housed in Jerusalem. Once the state of Israel was established, most of Aleppo's 10,000 Jewish residents wanted to migrate to Israel, as part of the Jewish exodus from Arab lands. The Syrian government banned Jews from migrating to Israel, so Syrian Jews and allies engaged in covert efforts to help the Jews of Aleppo migrate to Israel from 1948 till the 1990s. There was little backlash in Aleppo when Israel formed due to the religiously diverse and tolerant nature of the city's residents, but the Syrian government repressed Jews, and demonized them in the government-controlled media. To this day, the properties and houses of the Jewish families which were not sold after the migration remain uninhabited under protection by the Syrian Government. Most of these properties are in the Al-Jamiliah and Bab Al-Naser areas, and the neighborhoods around the Central synagogue of Aleppo. Currently hundreds of buildings, many of beautiful late Ottoman style stand empty and deteriorating in many sections of town, chained symbolically against repossession by Christians or Muslims.
One advocate, Canadian Judy Feld Carr, a former music teacher and grandmother of 10 helped 3,228 Jews escape Syria over 28 year period, from 1973 to 2001. She initiated a human rights campaign to lobby politicians and the media to free Aleppo Jews. Once it became clear that Syrian officials could be bribed, she employed funds from the Dr. Ronald Feld Fund for Jews in Arab Lands to negotiate secretly with agents to ransom people, and pay reliable smugglers to help Jews out. Negotiations involved placing a value on an individual's life, and separating family members that could be rescued at the time, from those who could not leave at that time. Many of the Syrian and Aleppo Jews that Feld Carr assisted live in nearby Israel, while others reside in Mexico City and Sao Paolo, Brazil. Finally, Feld Carr secured the release of almost all the remaining Syrian Jews in 2001. .
The Jewish community, which thrived under Chief Rabbi Jacob Dwek and his brother in law Rabbi Ezra Soued, is no more. There are only a handful of Jewish families living in Aleppo today, and the synagogue is empty. Their offspring have dispersed around the world, including the Syrian Jewish community of Little Syria in Brooklyn, New York.
The UDP cooperates closely with other interventions in the sector, namely the EU-supported 'Municipal Administration Modernization' program. It is planned to operate from 2007 to 2016.
(a comprehensive account of Aleppo's diverse middle class in the early-20th Century)