Turbulent and chaotic Aleppo

Located only a stone throw away from Hama is Aleppo, Syria’s second-important chief town and northern centre of trade. Since ever Aleppo (حلب) has been a market place; it is truly a city of trading. Germans will recognise as one of the centres of GTZ’s engagement to reconstruct Syria. In Aleppo it’s about Old Town, the souq and of course the impressive citadel. On the bus to Aleppo I met Afik, who also is a very well historically educated person. We talked about everything under the sun, the empire of the Umayyad’s, about pistachio trees looking dead in winter and of course about present problems such as the US-American aggression in Iraq.

Every Aleppo visitor will remember that bustle of cars and that traffic there is somehow different, more hectic and even slightly aggressive than elsewhere in Syria. Indeed crossing the street is an adventure. After being a pedestrian in Aleppo you should be able to reproduce how a deer or boar feels when crossing streets in Central Europe. Also in Aleppo best orientation spot is the central area around clock tower, not far from the most hotels. From there it’s just a short walk to Old Town, the other but smaller Umayyad Mosqe and of course to the citadel.

On my way to the citadel I met Sebastian, who’s running a shop of same name located at the bottom of the citadel. He’s slightly more expensive than the shops at the souq, on the other hand he’s selling quite qualitative goods. Aleppo residents are much more into making money than elsewhere in Syria. If you haven’t met tricksters yet, here you’ll meet them for sure; for example when they are trying to tell you that their job is silver smith and that the chain you’re looking at is handmade of pure silver and the applications are ebony. When pointing out that Europeans are charged with a high penalty when caught with ebony he answered: “Don’t worry, they will see that it is fake stuff.” Once spoken those words he noticed his mistake and his face “derailed”. Also the gay behaviour of some people is a show to separate a bargainer and his stuff from the rest, to attract people to buy his knick-knacks. Watch out Aleppo travellers, be forearmed…

Back to the souq, Aleppos main attraction. Escaping all those different spice scents is impossible. Also Aleppo has very good coffee on offer. Here I drank an espresso that was quite much better than some espressi I drank in its homeland Italy. Framed by different spice stalls you’ll find Aladdin’s soap stall. He offers the best Aleppo soap from his own manufacturing. It’s been a pleasure to have a chat about soap, its history and ingredients. He quickly noticed that chemically seen I am not inexperienced. In opposite to other tourists he got on the bottom of soap, even explaininng some recipes, ingredients and its skin effect.
It’s a fact: Aleppo soap is made of 100% natural ingredients, vegetable ingredients. The base is always a mixture of good olive and laurel oil. Additions are mint, pint, rose oil or the extract of black cumin. Lots of people know the film “Fight Club” with Bred Pitt. You’ll sure remember the moment when they break in to steal the fat extracted from high society ladies. Saponifying that fat and selling it to the very same ladies, that’s pretty disgusting but economically seen quite a brilliant idea. Well, what do you think about the origin of your soap? It is definintely not saponified human fat. It is nothing better though as slaughterhouse waste is what we’re getting our detergents from. I already know Aleppo soap and its brother from Marseilles for quite some time. I don’t want to miss it anymore; it’s a part of my life. Its foam is like velvet and leaves behind a silky skin.

Watch out: soap younger than 2-3 years isn’t meant to wash your skin. That soap has too many provocative agents yet, it has to ripe and to lose them. Young soap is actually only something to clean ceramic tiles etc. The age of soap is identifiable as young one is easy to but, for the old you’ll need a saw; also, the older soap the more wizened its surface. Due to it’s recipe fine soap is something different. Also it’s sold in smaller pieces (about 50-100g) and has a different colour (f.e. black or green). When meeting men like Aladdin buying quality soap doesn’t end up as kind of witchery; every shopkeeper politely explains everything even if you decide not to buy. Spending only about 15 Euro I went back to my hotel with 3kg of Aleppo’s finest soap.
Same with spices, there are countless stalls selling countless spices. While in Europe f.e. saffron costs about 8-10 Euro a gram in Syria you can buy 100g of very good Saffron from Iran for less than 2 Euro. When buying saffron separate it from all other spices.

At night Aleppo is a tribute to itself, a hectic town. In time at 11:00pm a demolishing team started its work to finish just in time at 7:00am – Well, elsewhere that time is the core hours of relaxation and sleep. As the bigger part of hotels were close to that earthquake-like demolishing site I decided to leave Aleppo to spend not another night that way. The weather had been better, even citadel photo friendly. The fortified keep at the bottom of the citadel is also its entrance. The massive doors and its iron mountings transport the picture of medieval orient and enemy troops powerfully trying to break in. The inner citadel is a conglomeration of stones, spread all over the labyrinth of corridors. In short: there’s a LOT of work left for restorers. The damaged caused an earthquake in 1822.
When walking up to the inner citadel and heading left you’ll find a fully restored chamber with lots of filigree marble and wooden tiles.

Aleppo is a bit touristier than other Syrian places like f.e. Damascus or Krak des Chevaliers. Surely there you’ll see white faces too but you won’t find yourself among a group of old Bavarian seniors walking through the city without having a plan, nor a clue. Those older people are important though, as those easy victims keep the major part of hucksters away from you.

Used photo equipment: Canon EOS 20D, Canon EF-S 10-22, Tamron 17-50 f2.8, Tamron 28-75 f2.8, Sigma 80-400 OS f4.5-5.6