Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Aleppo: The Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City


Rating: 3.5 Stars

I received this digital ARC via NetGalley from I.B. Tauris in exchange for an honest review.

I am forever fascinated by this region of the world and the splendor of old cities like Aleppo, Constantinople, etc. These cities managed to mix East and West and thrive for centuries. Unfortunately, nothing good can last and the latest civil war has all but destroyed one of the grandest old cities in the world.

My major complaint about this text is that it starts in the 1500s and I would have loved to read more about its existence before that. While we still get a vivid pictures of the city from that time up to now, there's so much more that could have been explored. This is an especially important point for me to make I feel, as only the first shorter portion was the history of the city as written by the author. The remaining bulk of the book was filled with eyewitness accounts of the city from different men and women who traveled there throughout the centuries, again from the 1500s, on. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, as there is so much more that could have been addressed. However, I must say that those eyewitness are invaluable. These accounts are incredibly thorough and paint a lively picture of a once-bustling city that no longer exists. This is a tragedy.

At one time Aleppo was one of the greatest cities in the world. Christians, Muslims, and Jews co-existed in relative peace. Despite different religions, traditions, and cultures, the city boomed. Even with the city changing rulers over the centuries, from Romans, Persians and Greeks to the Ottoman and French. It was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire that Aleppo found its place as one of the cosmopolitan cities of the world, where world-wide trade allowed it to flourish. Merchants came from all over to trade, and some ended up staying. In this first section we see Aleppo as a powerful city, even up until about ten years ago when the population was over two million inhabitants. Now, with the war have devastated the old city, the population is fewer than 500,000. It is such a shame that so much history has been lost and I truly hope that the city can recover and become what it once was.

The notes section is satisfactory, starting at 86% and ending at 92%. From there the bibliography went up to 96%

The lack of attention given to Aleppo prior to the 16th century is what really sunk this one to three stars for me. It seems like such a missed opportunity to have portrayed the city in all its glory, as one of the longest continually inhabited cities in history. I'm still interested in the subject and will seek out other texts on Aleppo.


  1. Thanks for sharing this one! ISIS has destroyed so much -- even driving out what was left of an amazing long-lived Christian tradition in the west. Baghdad is another city that was once glorious, but was crushed by war. Central Asia is littered with ruins from once-great trading much gets lost under the moving sands of history.

    1. Long--lived Christian tradition in the middle east, rather. Not sure how that turned into "west". I've been spending all of my lately in Asia, so everything is west...;)

    2. Yes, I think about cities like Aleppo and Palmyra and it just breaks my heart that all of these pieces of history are gone forever. There's no way to ever get them back and it is kind of like the Library at Alexandria for me. We will never even really know how much or exactly what was lost.

      I am really interested in reading about the Silk Road and the trade between the empires. When we are not even sure that Marco Polo was real, it can be hard to judge what is a good source of info and what isn't.

    3. I'm still trying to get more interested in Asia, but find it difficult. Not sure why.

    4. I read a book on the Silk Road earlier in the year, but was not impressed by it. It was more about modern archaeology (and looting) than the history of the network in its prime. You might like "Lost Enlightenment",'s about the civilizations that thrived in central Asia prior to the Mongol attacks, and the high level of scientific, artistic, and commercial enterprise they fostered. Imagine Afghanistan as an intellectual and cultural hotspot!

    5. I'd be interested in both, actually, I love reading about archaeology. Or were you not impressed because it was not well-written? Then I would probably pass. I added Lost Enlightenment to my to-read list, thanks for the suggestions!


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