|We arrived in Aleppo on Tuesday night and Sue soon found out that the hostel we were supposed to be staying in, had double booked itself. This turned out to be a good thing in the end as we were able to stay at the Hotel Baron instead. This was the first hotel built in Aleppo (1909-1911) and was used by famous people when the train-line (the Orient Express) used to terminate in the city. TE Lawrence, Theo Roosevelt, Attaturk and Uri Gegarin have all stayed here and Agatha Christie even wrote the first part of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ here! Nowadays the hotel is rather neglected and is still decked out in 1920’s style. In fact as we entered the bar there was even some pretentious young snob holding up the bar in a white linen suite and panama hat!
In the morning we all chipped in for a guide to show us around the main parts of the old city. This proved to be a wise move as the old city is a labyrinth of narrow streets and it is fairly easy to get lost. The main street in the souk is called Al-Jdeida which is a very well maintained warren of long stone-flagged alleyways with arched roofs. Hundreds of shops hug the alleyways but occasionally you come across big black studded doors, which in behind, hide elaborate courtyards – called caravanserai. In the past these would have been used by trading merchants traveling along the Silk Road. These structures are really pretty amazing and are still used for storing products before they are taken out to the shops in the souk. The most interesting street for us was the ‘meat and nut’ street. Essentially these two types of shop would alternate up the entire length of the street – bit of a weird mix really!
Like Damascus, this is one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world and there is still evidence of roman, medieval and ottoman architecture. However compared to the Damascus souk, the Aleppo one is very busy as it is still actively used by locals for everyday shopping needs. So we found it to be a bit more alive than the Damascus souk.
Aleppo though, is famous for two items – natural soap made form crushed olives, and pistachio nuts (which of course I had to purchase to spread the wealth)! On the northern edge of the souk is the great mosque ‘Al-Jamaa al-Kebir’ which we were able to visit. In the middle of the old city is the citadel which served as a power base for the Muslims at the times of the crusades. It is surrounded by a moat and the majority of it remaining is as old as 12th-15th Century AD (the base is from before Christ’s time).
Once the tour had finished we slowly made our way back through the souk and found ourselves in a local fruit market – we have never seen such big strawberries in our lives!
We went back to the same place we had dinner at the previous evening – a kebab house. I would have to say that we are both getting very sick of kebabs now however this particular place had great lamb chops and also a plate of white yoghurt like stuff called garlic cream – very tasty. Lambs testicles were also on the menu however we both declined that!