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One of the oldest and largest castles with a long and complex history: The Citadel of Aleppo in Syria

David Goran

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the center of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is the most famous historic architectural site in Syria built on top of a huge, partially artificial mound rising 50m above the city and surrounded by a trench. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. It’s a densely layered microcosm of a long and complex history.

The inner gate of the citade. Source

The inner gate of the citadel. Source

 

The citadel of Aleppo, Syria. Source

The citadel of Aleppo, Syria. Source

The majority of the construction, as it stands today, is thought to originate from the Ayyubids in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but substantial structures are also preserved from the Ottoman period beginning in the sixteenth century.

The main entrance of the Citadel. Source

The main entrance of the Citadel. Source

In the Ayyubid period, Zengid ruler Imad as-Din Zengi, followed by his son Nur-ad-Din, successfully unified Aleppo and Damascus and held back the Crusaders from their repeated assaults on the cities. Then, in 1260, the citadel was damaged by the Mongol invasion led by the Transoxian leader Timur which swept through Aleppo in 1400-1401.

South side of the Citadel of Aleppo. Source

South side of the Citadel of Aleppo. Source

During this period, the military role of the citadel as a defense slowly diminished as the city began to grow outside the city walls and take its form as a commercial metropolis. During this era, which lasted for more than 400 years, Aleppo was the economic capital of the Empire and the volume of Aleppo trade multiplied several times in the first 25 years of the Ottoman period.

It was the commercial centre linking Eirope and the Far East. Source

It was the commercial center linking Europe and the Far East. Source

In 1535, the Ottoman sultan signed an agreement with Francois the First, King of France, which increased and invigorated the French Community in Aleppo. In 1923, after the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations gave France a mandate to run Syria. The French began archaeological excavations and extensive restoration work, particularly on the perimeter wall.

Remains of Citadel of Aleppo. Source

Remains of Citadel of Aleppo. Source

The city was a good example of tolerance, free thinking, and multiple races and they were all equal under the same law. In the 1970s and 80s, tourism was revived and the citadel became one of Aleppo’s most popular destinations.

Visitors could sit in the open-air cafes below the walls and admire the towering gateways. Source

Visitors could sit in the open-air cafes below the walls and admire the towering gateways. Source

In August 2012, during the Battle of Aleppo of the Syrian civil war, the external gate of the citadel was damaged after being shelled during a clash between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Army to gain control over the citadel. In July 2015, a bomb was reportedly set off in a tunnel under one of the outer walls causing further damage to the citadel.

The continuous line of Battlements dominating the Glacis(ramp) and moat encircling the Citadel. Source

The continuous line of Battlements dominating the Glacis(ramp) and moat encircling the Citadel. Source

During the conflict, the Syrian Army used the Citadel as a military base, with the walls acting as cover while shelling surrounding areas and ancient arrow slits in walls being used by snipers to target rebels. As a result of this contemporary usage, the Citadel has received significant damage.