Aleppo and Its Majestic Citadel: Chilling Reports from the Current Civil War, and 14th Century Narratives by Ibn Batutta

I. THE HARSH REALITIES OF ALEPPO TODAY

(A). Syria’s Most War-Torn City by Newsweek Magazine

(Note: Newsweek’s story, accessible by clicking on the first image shown below, contain graphic images and may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised).

“Longer even than the journey from Damascus to Aleppo is the time it takes to get from one end of Aleppo to the other. Moving from the east to the western side of the city once took only a short bus ride. Now it involves navigating a labyrinth of side roads and as many as 20 checkpoints; an endurance test that can last between 10 and 16 hours” — James Harkin for Newsweek, August 19, 2015. Please click on Newsweek – Syria’s War Torn City or click on image below for Harkin’s full report.

A sergeant in Lewa Salaheddin, a Kurdish battalion of the Free Syrian Army, sits in front of a block of destroyed buildings in Aleppo, Syria on December 6, 2012. It’s more than three years since the fight for Aleppo began. By late 2012, parts of the city were already in ruins. Patrick Tombola/laif/Redux

A sergeant in Lewa Salaheddin, a Kurdish battalion of the Free Syrian Army, sits in front of a block of destroyed buildings in Aleppo, Syria on December 6, 2012. It’s more than three years since the fight for Aleppo began. By late 2012, parts of the city were already in ruins. Patrick Tombola/laif/Redux

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(B). A Resident’s Account of Aleppo’s Humanitarian Crisis and the Fear for its Historic Citadel

Editor’s note: The following excerpts are from the website of the Centre for Research and Globalization based in Montreal. For a full account published on July 25, 2015, please click on Global Research – Aleppo’s Humanitarian Crisis.

“Aleppo city has shrunk to a fifth of its original site. I walk everyday in the city. I see children and girls without limbs because of a mortar over here or shrapnel over there that hit them randomly and caused them a terrible wounds and horrific memories that will never leave them. The girl who lost one leg is standing on her good leg and selling bread, while the little boy who lost one arm is selling chewing gum. Those are the “injured” people who come in the news, just numbers in one line of a report, after each attack from the terrorists. “Injured” doesn’t mean scratched or having a bleeding finger; it means someone lost his eyes or her limbs.”

continued…

Aleppo and its castle from South West. Created/Published between 1898 and 1946. Photo: USA Library of Congress Collection, Gift Episcopal Home; 1978.

Aleppo and its castle from South West. Photo taken in 1898, and created/published
between 1898 and 1946. Photo: USA Library of Congress Collection, Washington, D.C.

“The last symbol left of Aleppo, is the most famous one: the Citadel. I can see part of it from our balcony, but I can see it more clearly from the roof of the building….It has been badly injured, but it’s still there, dominating the city skyline. It’s where they found the Storm God’s Temple a few years ago. It withstood many invaders, including the Mongols and Crusaders. It has been damaged severely several times through history, but it has been rebuilt over and over again, as an immortal symbol to the inhabitants of one of the oldest living cities in history. I just pray I don’t live to witness its total destruction as I have seen happen to many of the surrounding buildings.”

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II. IBN BATUTTA’S 14TH CENTURY DESCRIPTION OF ALEPPO AND ITS CITADEL

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks, the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. An extensive conservation work has taken place in the 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with Aleppo Archeological Society. Dominating the city, the Citadel is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The Citadel has received significant damage in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Photo and caption: Wikipedia.

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. Subsequently occupied by many civilizations including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks, the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. An extensive conservation work has taken place in the 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in collaboration with Aleppo Archeological Society. Dominating the city, the Citadel is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The Citadel has received significant damage in the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Photo and caption: Wikipedia.

An Introduction to Ibn Batutta

“No intelligent man,” wrote Ibn Djuzayy, the scribe to whom Ibn Batutta (also Batutah etc) dictated his memoirs, “can fail to see that this sheikh is the traveller of the age.” But Ibn Batutah (1304-1368 or 1377) was not only the greatest Arab traveller of the Middle Ages, he was one of the greatest travellers of all time. At the age of twenty-one, he set out from his birthplace, Tangiers (Morocco), and started his travels by undertaking the pilgrimage to Mecca. This was the start of thirty years of wandering during which he would travel almost 120,000 kilometres that would take him halfway round the world as far as China. His account of his travels (the Rihla), in addition to its literary value, gives a panoramic picture of the 14th-century world.

If there are historical inaccuracies in Ibn Battuta’s writings, they are largely attributable to the pronounced taste for the bizarre which was characteristic of the age, and to the loss of his notebooks during a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean.

But errors or exaggerations do not detract from the value of Ibn Battuta’s narrative which is written in a direct, straightforward style punctuated by observations which are not without humour. His entertaining story has been translated, wholly or in part, into some 15 languages and ranks among the masterpieces of Arabic literature.

Ibn Batutta on Aleppo and Its Citadel

From Sermin we proceeded to Haleb (Aleppo), a large city and splendid metropolis. This is how Abulhossein the son of Jobeir described it:

“This city is of enormous worth and its fame will last forever. Kings have often sought to possess it and men have been impressed by its importance. What a number of battles it has provoked, and what a quantity of shining words have been unsheathed for it! Its fortress is renowned for its power and its height is clearly to be seen. No one dared attack it because of its strength, or if they did they did not conquer it.

“The sides are of freestone and its proportions are full of symmetry. It has outlasted the days and the years and has seen nobles and beggars carried to their last resting-places. Where are the Hamdanite princes and their poets now? They are no more, and only the buildings remain. Oh wonderful city! It endures, but its owners have passed on. They have perished but its hour has not come. It was sought for after them and taken without great difficulty. It was coveted and won at the smallest cost.

Such is this city of Aleppo. How many of its kings has it not changed into a past tense (expression borrowed from grammar) and how many vicissitudes has it not defied because of its position! Its name was made in the feminine gender, it was adorned with the finery of a chaste virgin, it succumbed to the victor as others have done. It shone like a young bride after the sword (seif) of its dynasty, Ibn Hamdan (a reference to Prince Seif eddaoulah).

Alas! its youth will pass, it will be no longer desired, only a short while and it will be destroyed.”

continued….

Aleppo from castle. Photo taken in 1898, created/published between 1898 and 1946. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Aleppo from castle. Photo taken in 1898, created/published between 1898 and 1946. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

The fortress of Aleppo is called Ash shahba (the grey one). Within it there are two wells from which water gushes, and there is no fear of thirst there. The castle is surrounded by two walls, there is a great moat from which water rises, and its wall has many towers standing close together. This fortress encloses marvellous chambers pierced with windows. All the towers are occupied and in this fortified castle food is not impaired by the passage of time.

There is a sanctuary which is visited by many people, and it is said that Abraham prayed there to God. This fortress resembles the one called Rahbet (square of) Malik Ibn Thaouk, near the Euphrates, between Syria and Iraq. When the Tartar tyrant Kazan marched against the city of Aleppo, he besieged this fortress for many days. Then, frustrated in his desire to take it, he withdrew. Ibn Jozay says: Alkhalidy, the poet of Seif eddaoulah, writes as follows about this fortress:

“With its high belfry and invincible flanks, it is a vast, grim place which rises up against him who would take it.

“The atmosphere spreads a layer of cloud over this place and adorns the castle with a necklace of brilliant stars.

“When lightning flashes in the night this fortress appears through its interstices, shining like the constellation of the Virgo through the openings in the clouds.

“How many armies has this castle not destroyed and how many conquerors has it not put to flight!”

The same poet also speaks of the castle in the following admirable verses:

“It is a citadel whose base embraces the springs of water, and its summit is higher  than Orion’s Belt.

“It knows no rain, because for it the clouds are a ground,  whose sides are trodden by its cattle.

“When the cloud has given water in abundance, he who lives in the fortress uses all the water in his tanks before its summits are moistened.

“Its belvedere would be counted amongst the stars of the heavens if it passed through their orbits.

“The cunning of this fortress has repulsed the tricks of its enemies and the evils it caused were greater than theirs.”

Here is what Jemal eddin Ali, the son of Abulmansur, has to say about this castle:

“Because of its enormous height and the point which its summit attains, this castle nearly stops the celestial sphere that turns around the earth.

“Its inhabitants have gone to the Milky Way as to a watering place and their horses have nibbled the stars as though grazing on flowering plants.

“The vicissitudes of time turn from it in fear, and for this castle there is no change.”

Date posted: August 22, 2015.

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Editor’s note: The above introduction to Ibn Batutta and his narratives on Aleppo and its Citadel have been adapted from the January 1986 issue of The Unesco Courier which was dedicated to Treasures of World Literature. Please visit http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco-courier/.

We welcome your feedback. Please click on Leave a comment.

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FORTHCOMING PHOTO AND LITERARY PIECES ON SIMERGPHOTOS AND SIMERG

  • “Prayer Halls of Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji,” to be published week of August 24th, 2015 on Simerg’s photo blog, http://www.simergphotos.com
  • “Naklanki Geeta – Quantum Mechanics in Ginans” by Shiraz Pradhan, to be published week of September 7th, 2015 on this website, http://www.simerg.com.

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