Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trouble in Aleppo

Aleppo in Syria ranks with some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. There is evidence that people lived in that location at least 2000-3000 years before the Common Era. It became known outside of its immediate area when it became one of the western termini for the Silk Road, and goods passed through it on their way from the East to the Mediterranean and Europe.

Even before the establishing of the Silk Road, however, it saw prominence as a center of culture. In the 10th century, while it was the capital of and independent emirate, the scholar Al Farabi (briefly mentioned here) and the poet Al Mutanabbi (915-965) briefly created a golden age in Aleppo. It also managed to turn back attacks by European Crusading forces in 1098 and 1124.

Aleppo's trouble took place on 10-11 October 1138, when two earthquakes rocked the city, a small one followed by a larger that produced major destruction. Aleppo was home to tens of thousands at this time, but the initial shock on the 10th caused more fear than destruction, and drove many residents to the countryside. The quake of the 11th, however, justified their fears and destroyed much of the city. A contemporary historian, Ibn al-Qalanisi of Damascus, detailed the damage. The Aleppo Citadel that had been built by Crusaders (pictured above) partially collapsed, killing a reported 600 guards. A Muslim fort in the town of Atharib, 25 miles from Aleppo, was completely destroyed.

Aleppo was too prominent not to be rebuilt, and soon it was a thriving center for commerce and culture again, and being passed back and forth between the hands of different rulers: Saladin, Mamluks, Mongols, and finally Tamerlane in 1400, who killed many non-Mongol citizens and ordered a tower of their skulls to be built as a symbol of his rule.

...and the troubles continue to this day.

*An oft-quoted estimate of 230,000 deaths cannot be substantiated, and seems to have been created by a much later writer who was likely conflating the Aleppo quake with one a year earlier in Mesopotamia and/or one a year later in Azerbaijan.

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