Our first stop in Syria was Aleppo. We didn't have a travel guide for the Middle East, so we went with the flow. It took a bit longer to find places, but that's life. We arrived in Aleppo after a remarkably swift ride. The roads in Syria are far superior to what we encountered in Turkey. We targeted the three main things to see in Aleppo, but ended up doing much more. First off, the souks. Aleppo has 16 kilometers worth of souks. We managed a small fraction. A large part of the souks are made up of a maze of vaulted alleyways. It was surprisingly cool in the souks. The temperature outside was a balmy 38 degrees Celsius.
The citadel, towering over the old town and at the exit of one of the larger souks, is a must see. It has a large and ornate mosque located right above the entryway you see below.
Overlooking the citadel, one can appreciate the enormity of it. We walked around for an hour, winding our way through various to be restored paths and barely covered half of it. We're going to Craq de Chevaliers in a few days, which is one of the biggest forts in the world, but nevertheless, we were impressed with this citadel.
The Umayyad Mosque is to date one of the nicer ones we've seen. Partially, this is because of the enormous courtyard. It actually used to be a Christian place.
Inside, various areas of the mosque cater to different needs. Some people sit alone, some in groups and some areas are for women and children only. It was fiendishly difficult to take a good picture of a veiled woman. If shot from too close, all you see is a black silhouette. The subtlety of immaculate makeup, high heels and the way the dress is worn makes it very hard to capture the whole without a willing subject.
Wandering further, we encountered the copper market. The tray below is hammered out according to a paper pattern which is laid upon the copper, then pounded upon.
This is one of a handful of blacksmiths we saw, all located side by side down an alley. Similar to Turkey, trades people tend to group together. For example, near our hotel, there must have been 50 small shops where all they did was sell bearings, mostly all the same. I'm not sure how the economics of it all work, but it's a strange sight to see 5 or 6 shops where all they sell is air compressors. The next few shops sell fittings for air compressors and so on.
Aleppo has a fairly substantial Armenian and Christian quarter. The architecture is definitely a bit more advanced in that part of town, with lots of old Armenian courtyards that have been restored. The narrow alleyways were spotless.
A favorite evening activity was taking a taxi to the foot of the citadel, all of 50 cents (US), and having dinner while people watching. Having a camera with a swivel LCD display allows you to take pictures without being noticed. The two guys next to us, obvious business types, lurking on water pipes, or the more traditionally dressed woman. Or the couples, where the man is dressed in jeans and shirt sleeves, and the woman in a black chador, with a veil. In this case, we were not sure if they were a real couple or whether it was a blind date.
We certainly did not miss the crazy traffic in Aleppo. It sees people are even more reckless than in Turkey. Jan had a running battle with one minivan, but aside from some scrapes on one of his bags there was no damage. I missed the part where he and the driver were yelling at each other in the presence of a hapless policeman.