Friday, April 09, 2010

Syria: Aleppo.

that's right. by now we've entered fully into the Axis of Evil. but in all seriousness, i'm guessing/hoping that Syria is the highlight of our trip (other than our final stop at Club Chad, of course). 
Contrary to what the US State Department may wish the world to think, Syria is not populated by terrorists, zealots and other bogeymen. In fact, Syrians are among the most friendly and hospitable people in the world, and most visitors to their country end up developing a lifelong infatuation with its gentle charms. Since Bashar al-Assad took over the reins from his father in 2001, modernisation has been on the national agenda. This is no Levantine backwater - Syria is a modern, efficient and very proud nation with an administration that is becoming more liberal and outward looking by the day. It needs and deserves travelers to bear witness to this fact.

Fortunately, all this modernisation doesn't mean that Syria has lost sight of its past. The country has more than its fair share of significant historical sites, all of which are respectfully maintained by the authorities. The ancient cities of Damascus, Aleppo and Bosra are all listed on Unesco's World Heritage list, as is the sensationally beautiful ruined city of Palmyra (and we're hitting up everywhere listed but Bosra, but hope to make it to Hama as well). Mighty Crusader castles, labyrinthine medieval souqs, jewel-like Damascene houses and sacred Umayyad mosques are only some of the treats on offer; there are plenty more for those who are keen to search them out. Best of all is the fact that these monuments are often woven into the fabric of daily life - the locals worship in the mosques, shop in the souqs, drink tea in the houses and picnic in the ruins. And they're happy for travelers to join them.

first stop? Aleppo...
Aleppo (Arabic: حلب‎ [ˈħalab], Turkish: Halep, other names) is a city in northern Syria, the second largest Syrian city and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world; it knew human settlement since at least the second millennium B.C. through the residential houses that were discovered in Tel Qaramel. 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 was erected. The small river Quwēq (قويق) runs through the city.

For centuries and as recently as the 19th, Aleppo was Greater Syria's largest city, and the Ottoman Empire's third, after Constantinople and Cairo. Although relatively close to Damascus in distance, Aleppo is distinct in identity, architecture and culture, all shaped by a markedly different history and geography.

The city's significance in history has been its location at the end of the Silk Road, which passed through central Asia and Mesopotamia. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1869, trade was diverted to sea and Aleppo began its slow decline. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Aleppo ceded its northern hinterland to modern Turkey, as well as the important railway connecting it to Mosul. Then in the 1940s it lost its main access to the sea, Antioch and Alexandretta (Iskenderun), also to Turkey. Finally, the isolation of Syria in the past few decades further exacerbated the situation, although perhaps it is this very decline that has helped to preserve the old city of Aleppo, its mediaeval architecture and traditional heritage. Aleppo is now experiencing a noticeable revival and is slowly returning to the spotlight. It recently won the title of the "Islamic Capital of Culture 2006", and has also witnessed a wave of successful restorations of its treasured monuments.

so there you have it. doesn't seem so Axisy of Evily, now does it? after the jump, find more information on Syria and Aleppo.

this pre-written blog post brought to you by Dr.Evil, because he didn't spend six years in evil medical school to be called mister (pinky to chin).

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