The Old City of Aleppo is the historic city centre of Aleppo, Syria. Many districts of the ancient city remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the 12th to the 16th century. Being subjected to constant invasions and political instability, the inhabitants of the city were forced to build cell-like quarters and districts that were socially and economically independent. Each district was characterized by the religious and ethnic characteristics of its inhabitants.
The Old City of Aleppo -composed of the ancient city within the walls and the old cell-like quarters outside the walls- has an approximate area of 350 hectares (3.5 km²) housing more than 120,000 residents. Characterized with its large mansions, narrow alleys, covered souqs and ancient caravanserais, the Ancient City of Aleppo became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Many sections in the Al-Madina Souq and other medieval buildings in the ancient city were destroyed and ruined or burnt as a result of a major attack launched by the opposition Free Syrian Army armed groups on 25 September 2012.
Lying on the left bank of Queiq River the ancient city was surrounded by a circle of eight hills surrounding a prominent central hill on which the castle (originally a temple dating to the 2nd millennium BC) was erected in the shape of an acropolis. The radius of the circle is about 10 km. The hills are Tell as-Sawda, Tell ʕāysha, Tell as-Sett, Tell al-Yāsmīn (Al-ʕaqaba), Tell al-Ansāri (Yārūqiyya), ʕan at-Tall, al-Jallūm, Baḥsīta. With an approximate area of 160 hectares, the ancient city was enclosed within a historic wall of 5 km in circuit that was last rebuilt by the Mamlukes. The wall has since disappeared in its most parts. It had nine gates (5 of them are well preserved) and was surrounded by a broad deep ditch.
Alexander the Great took over the city in 333 BC. Seleucus Nicator established a Hellenic settlement in the site between 301-286 BC. He called it Beroea (Βέροια), after Beroea in Macedon. Northern Syria was the center of gravity of the Hellenistic colonizing activity, and therefore of Hellenistic culture in the Seleucid Empire. As did other Hellenized cities of the Seleucid kingdom, Beroea probably enjoyed a measure of local autonomy, with a local civic assembly or boulē composed of free Hellenes.
Beroea remained under Seleucid rule for nearly 300 years until the last holdings of the Seleucid dynasty were handed over to Pompey in 64 BC, at which time they became a Roman province. Rome's presence afforded relative stability in northern Syria for over three centuries. Although the province was administered by a legate from Rome, Rome did not impose its administrative organization on the Greek-speaking ruling class.
Aleppo is characterized by mixed architectural styles, having been ruled, among the other, by Romans, Byzantines, Seljuqs, Mamluks and Ottomans. Various types of 13th and 14th centuries constructions, such as caravanserais, caeserias, Quranic schools, hammams and religious buildings are found in the old city. The quarters of Jdeydeh district are home to numerous 16th and 17th-century houses of the Aleppine bourgeoisie, featuring stone engravings. Preservation of the old cityAs an ancient trading centre, Aleppo's impressive souqs, khans, hammams, madrasas, mosques and churches are all in need of more care and preservation work. After World War II, the city was significantly redesigned; in 1954 French architect André Gutton had a number of wide new roads cut through the city to allow easier passage for modern traffic.
Between 1954-1983 many buildings in the old city were demolished to allow for the construction of modern apartment blocks, particularly in the northwestern areas (Bab al-Faraj and Bab al-Jinan). As awareness for the need to preserve this unique cultural heritage increased, Gutton's master plan was finally abandoned in 1979 to be replaced with a new plan presented by the Swiss expert and urban designer Stefano Bianca, which adopted the idea of "preserving the traditional architectural style of Ancient Aleppo" paving the way for UNESCO to declare the Old City of Aleppo as a World Heritage Site in 1986.
- Khanqah al-Farafira, a 13th century sufi monastery built in 1237 by Dayfa Khatun.
- Bimaristan Arghun al-Kamili, an asylum functioned from 1354 until the early 20th century.
- Dar Rajab Pasha, a large mansion built during the 16th century near al-Khandaq street. During the first decade of the 21st century, the house was renovated and turned into an important cultural centre with a nearby large theatre hall.
- Beit Janbolat, an old palace built at the end of the 16th century by the Kurdish ruler of Aleppo Hussein Pasha Jan Polad.
- Beit Marrash, an old Aleppine mansion located in al-Farafira quarter, built at the end of the 18th century by the Marrash family.
- Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower, built in 1898-1899 by the Austrian architect Chartier.
- Grand Seray d'Alep, the former seat of the governor of Aleppo, built during the 1920s and opened in 1933.
- Al-Shadbakhtiyah Madrasa, one of the earliest preserved Ayyubid madrasas, built in 1193 by Jamal al-Din Shadbakht, a freed slave of Zengid ruler Nur al-Din.
- Al-Zahiriyah Madrasa, built in 1217 outside the city walls to the south of Bab al-Maqam, by Az-Zahir Ghazi.
- Al-Sultaniyah Madrasa, begun by Aleppo governor Az-Zahir Ghazi and completed between 1223–1225 by his son Malek al-Aziz Mohammed. The building is most famous for the mirhab of the prayer room. It contains the tomb of sultan Malik al-Zaher the son of Ayyubid Sultan Saladin.
- Altun Bogha Mosque of the Mamluk era, built in 1318.
- Al-Sahibiyah Mosque of 1350, built adjacent to Khan al-Wazir.
- Al-Tawashi mosque built in 1398 and restored in 1537. It has a great façade decorated with colonnettes.
- Al-Otrush Mosque, built in 1398 in Mamluk style. It is famous for its decorated façade and the entrance which is topped with traditinal Islamic muqarnas. It was resotred in 1922.
- Al-Saffahiyah Mosque, erected in 1425 and partly renovated in 1925. It is famous for its preciously decorated octagonal minaret.
- Khusruwiyah Mosque completed in 1547, designed by the famous Armenian-Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.
- Al-Adiliyah Mosque, built in 1557 by the Ottoman governor of Aleppo Muhammed Pasha. It has a prayer hall preceded by an arcade, with a dome, a mihrab with local faience tiles.