THE SYRIA SERIES, DAY 5
A day in Aleppo and generosity of new friends. As I am spending two nights in Aleppo it was good not to be on the move.
FOR THE SYRIAN PEOPLE; IT’S NOT IF THEY HAVE ENOUGH TO GIVE, ITS THAT THEY GIVE WHAT THEY HAVE.
Today I was to take a 6 hour walk around Aleppo to check out everything from the Bazaar to the Citadel, it was clear why this country was so popular before the war.
WHERE IS ALEPPO?
THE MUSEUM OF ALEPPO
I’ll be honest, I am not one for museums, the pottery and artefacts type but the museum of Aleppo which was very much untouched during the war is small and worthwhile. I was pointed over to a child’s skeleton which dated back to 40,000 – 100,000 years ago. These dates just blow my mind!! It was found in the Dereary Cave close to the Turkish border and was from, as you’ll be able to tell, the Neanderthal period. And if you thought toys were a thing only our generation had the privilege of having you’d be mistaken. There were animal models from over 5000years ago. My nieces play with animals figures, so we haven’t come that far since then 😬. No photos allowed unfortunately 😉
- HOTEL – Aleppo Palace Hotel 7/10
- RESTAURANT –
Another killer Falafel
- ATTRACTIONS –
Museum of Aleppo
After a walk passed the most oily of all street food we headed to the bazaar where I was approached by a local who had a message; ‘what you see about Syria in the west is not what it is about’ and that he was right. The benefits of having a guide and translator in one means you don’t miss out on this kind of conversation!
The Bazaar is going through an extensive refurb after a lot of it was destroyed during the war. Seeing it at every stage of development was incredible as you get an idea of the work that has to go into the rebuilding of these places. Much of it is still rubble and the work will likely continue for years.
DAILY TRAVEL STATS….
- Steps – 23,700
GRAND MOSQUE OF ALEPPO
Another building that became a victim to the war was the city’s largest mosque, originally built in 700AD. The minaret was blown up as collateral, it was an easy place to camp for a sniper with views right across the city. Currently renovations are ongoing so you can’t gain access, that was however until a member of military invited us in – it really depends on who you talk to. But unfortunately, no photos were allowed!
The plan was originally to restore the minaret with the same blocks in the same place, a bit like Humpty Dumpty! However unsurprisingly this proved impossible and will instead do what they can to make it as it was. It’s slow work as we watched the workers go from block to block and decide which one to use, the skills of these trades are super impressive!
Refurb also continues inside the mosque, however these areas were only partially destroyed. The mosque is home to The Tomb of Zachary, the son of Saint John the Baptist, who’s tomb is in Damascus.
After some Mouhara (spicy bread) and a chat to the local coffee man it was onto the Aleppo Citadel, the most impressive castle I have ever seen!
Dating back to 3000BC, it’s no surprise that Aleppo is home the oldest citadel in the world and a surprising fact is that no one is sure who built the 40,000ft2 beast!
Many civilisations have occupied it since it’s inception and most of its construction as it is today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. Even though it appears in good state the citadel received significant damage during the civil war when the army occupied it and was continually attacked by the rebels.
- Aleppo is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
- Aleppo’s citadel is considered one of the most striking examples of medieval Islamic architecture preserved into the 21st century.
- Aleppo’s history stretches back over 4,000 years, with a succession of civilizations, including Hittite, Greek, Roman and Ayyubid, leaving their mark on the city over the centuries.
As the army held the castle it was bombarded with attacks from every side. The rebels struggling to make progress decided to dig underneath the castle and attack there. However, on four separate occasions the rebels miscalculated and blew up; a 4* hotel, two mosques and another building.
It was here I walked around a bit on my own and had some young locals offer to take me for a coffee. So we arranged to meet up later and swapped numbers.
Meeting locals is an important part of visiting a new country for me but sometimes when you are with a guide it can be difficult as the guide isn’t always accepting, and this one in particular. I’m not sure if it was because he didn’t want me to be annoyed or whether he just didn’t want it himself. His knowledge is second to none however.
TEA AND SISHA
I met up with Jed and Age at Aleppo Square and headed to have some tea and sisha. There are no bars or clubs so cafes are open to all hours as this is their way of socialising.
We sat outside (we all agreed people watching is too much fun to miss) and spoke about a lot…and I mean a lot! Jed and Age weren’t shy about answering the upfront questions I had and it was incredible to hear the opinion of someone beyond my guide, especially of this age as most of their childhood was spent during the war. As before you can only get so much info but talking to different people gives a different perspective, and I was shocked yet intrigued about what they had to say.
I was shocked to hear Jed had to leave Aleppo and flee north to Manbij, a town near the border of Turkey. This city changed hands more times than most. It was first captured by rebels before being taken by ISIS and then eventually by the SDF. After this the US military occupied it before Russia and Syria regained control.
Jed was here for 2 years and seen it all. He mentioned anytime there was a disagreement or someone broke the law against which ISIS believes then everyone in the area would be asked outside to watch the punishment. He himself was lucky to stay alive.
In some strict Muslim faiths (ISIS) they are not allowed to talk to women outside of their family. However Jed after talking to him mum walked off and was approached by several men representing ISIS who demanded to know why he was talking to a woman. He pleaded that it was his mum but as she was wearing a full burka he no longer knew which one she was. He was then pushed into a car and taken for a session of whips, he’s lucky it wasn’t worse.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit it but these pair didn’t allow me to pay for a thing! And every time managed to arrange the bill without me knowing. Here in Aleppo it’s not if you have enough to give, it’s that you give what you have. Much different than my guide and driver 😆.
The guys were telling me there is a huge infrastructure problem here with electric for only a few hours per day. This is due to the damage to the main power station and sanctions making it difficult to fix. To maintain power every street has several generators (the noise is insane) running all day on diesel…not cheap either!
- HIGHLIGHT – Three hours chilling and talking with new friends
- LOWLIGHT – Hearing what people have went through!
- MVP – Jed & Age, the locals who bought me dinner, tea and sisha!
- SPECIAL MENTION – Rama. The young girl who had nothing and wished to give me her gift.
After declaring I was hungry and seeing as I enjoyed yesterday’s falafel so much Jed and Age took me to Ammo Hamid (Uncle Hamid). This restaurant is special and a bit of an institution here in Aleppo. They have a sign that reads; If you have no money then you eat for free! I know the food doesn’t cost much but no one has much here and to help and support each other as they do makes me wonder if I do enough myself sometimes.
We were then approached by a young pleasant girl selling candy floss. Although difficult I normally ignore these requests as they happen everywhere you go but she was incredibly pleasant even though she couldn’t speak English – apart from the word 1. Jed and Age said this was her way of asking me to count from 1 – 10 so she could learn.
12 GOING ON 32
She was way beyond her years and after seeing Jed and Age get money out to hand to her I asked if I could instead. “A lot of kids are left living on the street without parents or a family so we try and help each other.”
I gave her money but she wouldn’t leave. She clearly didn’t want more as she was just keen to talk and sometimes that was hard without coming out in a huge grin! Anyway eventually we moved on to eat which again Age paid for (they weren’t even eating!).
Later Rama came over to give me her candy floss and as I asked ‘how much’ she refused and said it was a gift. Obviously, this was all translated through Jed and Age. It was here that I learned the second English word she knew after I told her to take it back; a very stern “no!”. It would have worked a treat if she didn’t come out in a fit of giggles but from then she walked off leaving the candy floss with Jed.
It’s times like this which just show you the true character of people. Young people are taught to share but it’s at times difficult but for someone so young to be as generous as this amazed me! Obviously she was given her candy floss back with another paper gift.
What a day in Aleppo, it surpassed my wildest expectations and unless I win the lottery while I’m here will be the best experience of the trip.
A day in Hama and great service!! Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
- Do you enjoy meeting locals while travelling?
- Are you ok with putting your safety and trust in people you don’t know?
- How do you decide when people are trustworthy?
Let me know in the comments below . . .