ultramarinus – beyond the sea

AL-MADINA SOUQ, Aleppo, Syria

2006.05.10

Not far from the citadel is the main souq of Aleppo, the Al-Madina Souq.  It is consisted of a series of interconnected covered markets.  Like other Middle Eastern souqs, the Al-Madina Souq is vast and labyrinth like.  Unlike the touristy Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Al-Madina Souq was catered almost entirely for the locals.  We stopped often to talk to vendors and tried out the local snacks, including a tasty hot omelet from an old vendor. While picking up a few metal necklaces from a curious young vendor in the jewelery section, the curious vendor kept on asking us questions about Hong Kong and Canada.  There were a number of vendors selling colouful spices, as well as the famous Aleppo soap.

Since the trip to the Middle East, Aleppo soap has been on my occasional shopping list of personal care items.  No matter in Toronto, London, Kyoto or Hong Kong, we could always find some local stores that got some of these Syria soap bars on the shelves.  Although the exact origin of Aleppo soap is unknown, these handmade soap made from olive oil and lye has been around since ancient times.  The first Crusades brought this soap to Europe and greatly influenced the industry of soap making in Europe.  In Aleppo, the best place to shop for Aleppo soap used to be Al-Madina Souq.  With 13km of shops, about 4000 shops distributed in 37 specific souqs, Al-Madina Souq was one of the largest and oldest covered market in the world, and served as the commercial heart of Aleppo for many centuries.  Back in the days of the ancient Silk Road, Aleppo was a major hub in the area.  People from the region would come to shop for soap, silk, spices, jewelry, gold, ceramics, textiles, clothing, pure cotton, etc.  No one knows exactly how old the souq is, but some of the white stones in the market were cut and placed around 2500 years ago.  The souq remained as the city’s iconic shopping venue until the Syrian Civil War.  In September 2012, a fire caused by the fighting between the rebels and government army lasted for days and destroyed the majority of Al-Madina Souq.

06ME23-09Before the war, the Al-Madina Souq was the best place to shop for spices and soap.

souk 2Despite some visiting tourists, the Al-Madina Souq was largely serving the local poppulation.

souk 3Vendors were friendly to us despite many couldn’t speak English.

souk 1We watched an old vendor demonstrating the making of egg omelets.

06ME24-30In some occasions the vaulted ceiling of the souq made way to an opened rotunda.

06ME23-14Apart from the mosque, the Al-Madina Souq was the biggest loss to Aleppo from the war.

06ME23-17The souq lies in the middle of the old city of Aleppo.

06ME23-18Before the destruction of 2012, the souq pretty much stayed the same since the Medieval Ages.

06ME24-31Today, 60% of the old city was damaged in the world.

06ME24-32It was interesting to find our way through these narrow alleys surrounding the souq.

06ME24-34Before the Civil War, most of the old city dated back to the 12th century.

06ME24-35The unique old city of Aleppo was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1986.

06ME24-36Both the souq and the old city were being restored bits by bits in recent years.

06ME24-37Let’s hope the prosperous scenes of the Old Aleppo would return to the war-torn ancient city soon.

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