Fire swept through the old central souk, or marketplace, of Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday, damaging a vast and well-preserved labyrinth of medieval storehouses, shops, schools and ornate courtyards as fierce clashes between security forces and insurgents vowing to carry out a “decisive battle” for the city continued.[Fire Sweeps Through 17th-Century Souk of Aleppo, City’s Soul]
The battle for Aleppo is not going very well. Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad had a documentary on this in which he visited the rebel frontlines and found them disorganized. In an interview with NPR he said
“There is chaos, there is no military planning, there is no organization,” he says. “Most of the skirmishes happen like a game of cat and mouse: The tank is the cat. When the tank moves down street, the rebels disperse, run away, try to ambush the tank, they go from a corner to a corner. Meantime, there is shelling [and] mortars raining on them.”[Journalist Examines Chaotic Fighting In Syria]
In one of the history courses I am doing, there is a mention of Aleppo in the section on overland commerce and the Ottoman expansion in the fifteenth century. By this time Vasco da Gama had reached Calicut and Columbus had led the way for the exploitation of the Americas. But that did not halt the overland caravan trading completely; the land routes that linked the Europe to India and China were still active. One of the cities that thrived along this route was Aleppo because it was at a prime location: at the end of the caravan route from India and Baghdad. It was bigger than Damascus and Homs and by the 16th century, one of the most important commercial centers in the region.
Now a huge fire has destroyed those souks
The souks of Aleppo, a maze of vaulted passageways with shops that sell everything from foods to fabrics, perfumes, spices and artisan souvenirs, are a tactical prize for the combatants. They lie beneath the city’s towering citadel where activists say regime troops and snipers have taken up positions.
Aleppo’a souks are not the only Syrian cultural treasures to have fallen victim to the violence following the country’s uprising and the crackdown by the Assad regime.
Some of the country’s most significant sites, including centuries-old fortresses, have been caught in the crossfire in battles between regime forces and rebels. Others have been turned into military bases. In Homs, where up to 7,000 are estimated to have died, historic mosques and souk areas have also been smashed and artefacts stolen.[Medieval Aleppo souks destroyed by fire as battle rages in Syria]
- Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From 1000 CE to the Present (Third Edition) (Vol. 2) by Robert Tignor et al