Published: October 11th 2009
October 11th 2009
For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
Aleppo Ancient Citadel
Oldest living city in the world with an 8000 year old continuous culture
At the time that the events of the New Testament were taking place, the earliest written records of Damascus and Aleppo were already 2500 years old. Evidence suggests that these two cities have been continuously inhabited for as long as 8000 years, making them the oldest living cities in the world. Over time they have been incorporated into the Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Ottoman, and French empires.
I am baffled by this thought as I peer from my 10$ Aleppo hotel room balcony, observing a group of street cats eating garbage, men smoking nargileh (shisha), and little boys shining shoes. I sometimes have trouble associating these romantic histories with the modern day scenes I observe on the streets, though there is no denying that the crumbling walls of this city’s alleyways exude ancient vibes.
Modern day Aleppo in a conservative Muslim city, and as I travel with a Korinn, a Canadian female companion, I witness firsthand the uncomfortable stares that female travelers have to deal with constantly in this region of the world.
Alcohol is not totally banned like in
Street of Fruit Stalls
My favorite street in Aleppo. It also happened to be the beer street.
some neighboring countries, but it is not easy to find either. We locate one hole-in-the-wall shop that sells beers, many of them 10% alcohol; it seems in these parts if people chose to drink, they don’t want to waste any time. As we down a few with fellow travelers on cushions on the rooftop of our hotel, which also acts as a bedroom for those most budget minded travelers, I get the impression that our little gathering is probably the craziest, if only ‘party’ going down in the entire city on this humble Saturday night.
I passed my days in Aleppo photographing the people, and the
place to photograph people was in the Old City. One continuous souq
(covered market) runs for over a kilometer, terminating at the ancient Citadel, which dominates the cityscape. The souq is overflowing with people, fabric stalls, butchers, shoppers, donkey carts, motorcycles, espresso machines, and pretty much anything you could hope to buy.
I particularly enjoy the cuisine of the Arab states, as I am a huge fan of falafel, hummus, baba ganouj (eggplant dip), and fuul (bean dip), particularly when an entire meal of any of the above only sets
you back 50 cents. I was also enthralled by the fruit stalls, where your fruits of choice are blended with fresh pomegranate syrup, honey and ice, to be consumed out of giant glass mugs while standing on the street as you observe the surrounding excitement.
While visiting the ancient Citadel I had an encounter with a female Syrian student named Maleam who, eager to practice her already excellent English, invited my friend and I to sit and chat with them. I was taken aback by how blunt and forward she was with me in conversation; in a city where it is difficult to even make eye contact with women I never expected to be able to converse so openly with them, and so I accepted her invitation to meet again the next day and visit her University. I was able to spend the entire day talking with her and learned a lot about Syrian culture, particularly from the female and Muslim perspective, and I was able to meet many of her friends, including a group of Palestinian girls who were equally forward with me and, I must add, strikingly beautiful.
After Aleppo I journeyed to the
desert to take in the ruins of Palmyra, the oasis trading post that once linked the ancient routes from the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia to Arabia, as well as the famous Silk Road to India and China. Today it is a typical tourist town, where the tout hassle is thick and camels ready to pose for pictures abound.
Then it was on to Damascus, which struck me as a slightly larger and slightly less conservative version of Aleppo and, like in Aleppo, I passed most of my time photographing people in the ancient souqs, which in Damascus fill much of the Old City in an enormous network of labyrinthine alleyways.
After a bout of early Christmas shopping, I also took the time to visit a hamaam
, or Tukish Bath, where one is violently undressed, scrubbed, rubbed, and massaged by large, half naked, very hairy men on hot slabs of marble while breathing in water vapor and enjoying the ancient interior domed architecture. Clearly a ‘unique’ and must-do Middle Eastern experience.
Finally, I ventured west into Lebanon, and returned again to Syria to visit coastal Lattakia en route to Turkey. Lattakia is the most liberal city
in Syria, where café and nargileh culture thrives, and like Lebanon, headscarves are not the norm, style is everything, and even the odd cleavage can be spotted. For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
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