Aleppo After the Fall – The New York Times

Back in the souqs, I kept trying to superimpose my memories of the place. We passed near the silk merchants’ area, now blackened and silent. Before 2011, I used to stop there and visit a flamboyant young trader with a round, cherubic face. He would give me tea and drape me with scarves. His little stall was covered with pictures of gay icons like Judy Garland, a reference that his Syrian partners seemed not to get (or perhaps they just didn’t care). I still have his business card, with a picture of Oscar Wilde and the quote: “I can resist everything except temptation.” Aleppo in those days was a magnet for footloose journalists and adventure tourists. We would spend hours getting lost in the souqs and then stop for drinks in the dimly lit bar at the Hotel Baron, gazing at its old unpaid bar tab left by T.E. Lawrence, our heads swimming with nostalgia for an era we knew only from books.

Now parts of the city were literally unrecognizable. In al-Hatab Square, once one of the prettier spots in the Old City, I found only a giant, uneven mound of rubble and earth that rose 15 feet above the street, with grass growing in it. I almost stepped on an unexploded Turkish gas bomb surrounded by yellow spring flowers. On the square’s edges, half the buildings were destroyed. It was hard to believe this was once an orderly urban setting, lined with restaurants and hotels. The last time I was in Aleppo, in late 2010, I stayed at a beautiful old boutique hotel near the square, the Beit Wakil. I remember the owner taking me down into a dark, earthen-walled subbasement to show me a network of tunnels built centuries earlier. You could travel all the way to the citadel — the great medieval palace that towers over the Old City — without going aboveground, he said. They were built during the 17th century, when intermittent wars often made streets too treacherous to walk. “Perhaps we will need them again,” he said.

What destroyed Aleppo? It was not the…

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