► The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the remarkable examples of military architecture in the Middle East; it represents a unique cultural heritage for the quality of the architecture and for the complexity of the historical stratifications.
► The perimeter of the Citadel, completely restored by AKTC in 2003 has been hit by heavy bombings since 2014 and is now completely destroyed, all the public buildings in the area are severely damaged or destroyed.
► The UNESCO team reported extensive damage at the Great Umayyad Mosque, the Citadel, mosques, churches, suqs, khans, madrassas, hammams, museums and other significant historic buildings in Aleppo.
► According to a preliminary assessment, some 60% of the old city of Aleppo has been severely damaged, with 30% totally destroyed.
Years of History
The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the remarkable examples of military architecture in the Middle East. The recently discovered Temple of the Storm God dates human use of the hill from the beginning of the third millennium BC. The Citadel of Aleppo, which has been built on a natural limestone hill, is the result of numerous constructive phases, large changes and destruction. The record of these changes is still recognizable in a few structures. Most of what remains today is from the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. The monument represents a unique cultural heritage for the quality of the architecture, the variety and quality of the materials, and for the complexity of the historical stratifications. The Citadel, the 12th-century Great Mosque and various 16th and 17th-centuries madrasas, residences, khans and public baths, all form part of the city’s cohesive, unique urban fabric. The monumental Citadel of Aleppo, rising above the suqs, mosques and madrasas of the old walled city, is testament to Arab military might from the 12th to the 14th centuries. With evidence of past occupation by civilizations dating back to the 10th century B.C., the citadel contains the remains of mosques, palace and bath buildings. The Citadel of Aleppo is a very large complex containing a series of buildings and monuments with different historical features, which call for a diversified approach and different forms of conservation and maintenance targeted to the specific requirements of each structure or category of structures. These can be listed as the bridge and the main gateway; the ring walls and the towers; the mosques; the cisterns; the palace complex; the arsenal; the hammam; the barracks; the tunnels; and the new theatre. In 2003 the City of Aleppo and AKTC signed a protocol detailing the objectives and conditions for the design of the perimeter of the Citadel. One of the main objectives of the Citadel Perimeter project involved the planning and control of the spread of commercial functions in ways that might jeopardize the comfort, economy and environment of the adjacent residential areas. It was also important to open new cultural development opportunities through the reuse of existing historic buildings and to steer tourist and commercial functions into a direction that is beneficial to the particular areas involved and the Old City in general.
As a result of major escalations of armed conflict, the Ancient City of Aleppo has been severely damaged since 2013. On 11 May 2015, the State Party submitted an updated report for the property resulting from the assessment of pictures (commissioned by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) and taken in April 2015 when ground access was possible). The reports confirm and detail some of the damage reported in 2014 and 2015, to the Great Umayyad Mosque, Mosque al-Utrush, Madrasa al-Adiliyya, Madrasa al-Sultania, the Citadel, the New Serail (Grand Serail), the Hotel Carlton, Matbakh al-Ajami, Khan al-Shouna, Khan al-Saboun and Khan al-Wazeer as well as additional severe damages to the Maronite Church. In addition, severe damage has been reported at Khan Slaimanyeh (Haj Musa), Suq al-Haddadin, Suq al-Zarb, Suq al-Sagha, part of Suq al-Suweiqa and at Madrasa al-Shathbakhtiyya (al-Shaikh Maarouf Mosque) destroyed by underground explosions. In addition the State Party indicates that local communities and social media have provided additional information about severe damage caused by underground explosions to the Qasab Gate and Suq Khan al-Harir, and by clashes to the Armenian Orthodox Church in April 2015, as well as minor damage to the Museum of Folks Arts (Ajiqbash House) on 7 May 2015. Underground explosions destroyed part of the defensive wall at the Northeast side of the Citadel on 11 July 2015, and partially damaged the Citadel’s 13th century entrance as well as Khan al-Shuna on 10 November 2015. In April and May 2016, heavy bombardments have been reported by the media but no details on damages to the property have been received yet.
The Old City of Aleppo has been, and continues to be, severely damaged owing to the armed conflict, and very large portions of the property appear to have been completely destroyed. This has resulted ina humanitarian crisis with loss of life and displacement of large sections of the community, and major destructions of the city that will need extensive reconstruction and recovery of its social and economic fabric. Several international and national initiatives are ongoing to document the damages in Aleppo, and gather the existing archives, historical data and recent surveys and documentation, such as the Aleppo Archives initiative in Berlin.
In the face of this devastation, the World Heritage Centre has decided to publish a damage assessment report prepared on the detailed state of conservation in Aleppo – which is currently being finalized following a reflection meeting with a group of multidisciplinary experts on the issue of postconflict reconstruction in the Middle-East, with a special focus on Aleppo, to launch the reflection on recovery plans in Aleppo. As soon as access to the property becomes possible, it is important that humanitarian and security actions be done in coordination with cultural heritage stakeholders, as much as possible, to avoid further irreversible damages to the property, and allow the undertaking of first-aid measures on its cultural heritage.