The old city of Aleppo takes the form of a huge, partially covered bazaar – ‘souk’ in Arabic – which as well as being the main shopping area for a large part of the city’s overall population, is also home to some 120,000 of them.
In total it covers around 355 hectares and includes many old hans as well as atmospheric covered streets with huge bronze lanterns (now electrified) for illumination.
This isn’t a ‘made for tourists’ destination as Istanbul’s Covered Bazaar is these days. The souk has shops selling everything from clothes to meat, furniture to spices. And it positively bustles with local women doing their daily shopping.
In 1986 UNESCO included Aleppo’s souk on its list of World Heritage sites and Aleppo City Council are now working with a German Government Department on a long-term project to revitalise the old city.
This project has an impressive list of aims including updating of ageing infrastructure; provision of interest-free micro-credit to residents to encourage them to improve their homes; development of health and educational facilities and increasing awareness of the city’s heritage, value and needs.
And it does seem to be working. The small loans have helped renovate around 1,000 homes and 240 buildings classified as protected historical monuments.
The latter include the project’s headquarters housed in a building which was once a school run by Franciscans, with a wonderful peaceful courtyard.
Finally, having spent six hours wandering around the souk, we are amazed at how hassle free it is.
No-one is trying to drag you into shops to buy things here – what a refreshing change.