Aleppo, Syria: Ruled successively by Hittites, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans, Aleppo’s ancient city has survived violent change over thousands of years. But the modern weaponry of Syria’s escalating civil war is proving too much.
The stone walls are pockmarked with bullet holes, whole houses have fallen after air strikes, and small wooden doors decorated with metal filigree are cracked from explosions.
For a month, rebels armed with assault rifles and grenades have battled President Bashar Al Assad’s army along Aleppo’s cobbled streets. Troops have used tanks, helicopters and jets to shoot, blast and bomb their positions.
“Every day there is fighting in Aleppo’s Old City. Yesterday a jet bombed twice. The helicopters fire on us and there are mortar bombs every day,” said rebel fighter Ahmad Hanesh, a 19-year-old student from the old district of Jedeide, standing guard at the edge of the Old City.
Even before the fighting, time had forced houses made of stone and wooden beams to lean under their own weight and Aleppo’s ancient mosques are crumbling. But the new scars are prominent.
“How can we protect the old houses? We have to protect ourselves first,” said Hanesh, his green head band and ammunition jacket popular attire for rebels who see themselves as the protectors of civilians from Al Assad’s feared militia, the Shabiha.
Where tourists once marvelled at Aleppo’s preserved madrassas and ancient markets — imagining themselves in an Arabian Nights fantasy — now fighters stand at every corner with their weapons placed on sandbag barriers. The tourist shops are shuttered, their famed green olive soap locked up; an industry ruined.
The aroma of home-made perfume and spice markets has been replaced with the smell of stone dust, chipped out into the air by shrapnel and bullets.
Rebels and government troops here fight street by street. Enemies position themselves only metres away from each other as the ziz-zag alleyways grant some protection from a direct line of fire. They know Aleppo’s stone buildings will take the blows.