Al-Madina ofAleppo, Syria’s most populous city and its commercial capital, was the world’s largest covered market – until entire sectors in the maze of streets and narrow alleyways were devastated by fire following a military operation launched by rebels last Friday.
Al-Madina (the City), dating to the 13th century, is not just one souq but dozens of specialised markets filled with hundreds of shops.
Some of these, at least until now, traded in delicate Indian silks, Iranian carpets and ceramics, or western designer clothing. Others stocked cheap plastic goods from China, embroidered caftans for men and women, spices, herbs, fruit and vegetables, and raw cotton harvested in the fields around the city.
Deep in the souq are workshops where artisans fashion copper and brass trays, furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ebony, and soap perfumed with flower and herbal essences, Aleppo’s most famous export. Many shops had carved wooden doors that perished in the blaze – but thick stone walls and vaulted ceilings mean some could be restored.
In addition to shops and workshops, there are churches, mosques, Turkish baths, classical music academies, museums, splendid Ottoman mansions transformed into bijou hotels and restaurants, and inns. The most famous inn is Khan al-Gumrok, a 17th-century customs caravanserai, the largest in the old city.
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