Vera Illugadóttir
Last updated: 23 September, 2012

Rediscovering Aleppo’s long history

Humans have lived for thousands of years in the region where the Syrian city of Aleppo now stands. The oldest sources referring to the city are around five thousand years old, making Aleppo one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

The American Colony in Jerusalem was a small community of Christian utopians who settled in Ottoman Palestine in the late nineteenth century. Among the colonists were some talented and prolific photographers, whose photographs from travels around the Middle East are now held by the Library of Congress. 

Some time at the beginning of the twentieth century — probably either in 1903 or 1912 — the American Colony photographers toured Syria and visited Aleppo. 

When they arrived, the city had for centuries been one of the most prominent cities in the Ottoman Empire; a centre of trade and the capital of an eponymous Ottoman vilayet (province). 

It was, however, in decline, gradually losing economic and political importance to its competitor in the south, Damascus. Aleppo was home to around a hundred thousand inhabitants. 

The Colonists’ fascinating photos show an ancient but living city, which in some ways looks much the same as it does now with the citadel towering over the city from its centre. Yet, it’s different in other ways, not the least as a result of the on-going Syrian civil war that has taken a devastating toll on Aleppo’s architectural landscape.