09 December 2011

Syria--Aleppo and Hama

Welcome back. For today’s blog post, I thought I’d continue being a UN consultant in Syria in the early 1980s. We've sampled Damascus and taken a day trip south to see Roman ruins at Shahba, Qanawat and Bosra. How about if we head north?
While I spent most of my first visit to Syria in Damascus, I did get to the Aleppo area with Syrian counterparts to review possible sites for field data collection. On my second visit to Syria, I accompanied my Australian colleague and Syrian counterparts to the Hama area to conduct fieldwork. Please come along on both trips.
Damascus to Aleppo
Sheep encountered en route to Aleppo, 1982.

The 4-plus hour drive to Aleppo, about 220 miles north of Damascus, was long but interesting thanks to my Syrian counterparts and sights along the way. Agriculture dominated our conversation, since the UN project was on agricultural monitoring, but we strayed easily and often into other topics.
Cone-shaped mud houses south of Aleppo, 1982.
City of Aleppo

Like Damascus, Aleppo is one of the world’s oldest cities, dating possibly to the 6th millennium BC (Wikipedia). According to its UNESCO World Heritage Site description, Aleppo has been the crossroad of trade routes since the 2nd millennium BC, being ruled at times by Hittites, Assyrians, Akkadians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Ayyubids, Mameluks and Ottomans, all of whom left their mark (whc.unesco.org/en/list/21).
Aleppo seen from the Citadel, 1982.

On our arrival, my counterparts dropped me at a hotel and went off to check in elsewhere. The hotel that had been recommended to me was full, but we found one that, allegedly, was endorsed by the Touring Club of Italy. AAA might have given it a single diamond due to an error in translation.

I’ll spare you my room, which at least had semi-functioning internal plumbing, and invite you to the dining room. It was lunchtime, yet I was the sole diner. There was no menu. When I asked for food, the waiter brought some. And he kept bringing more. I'd guess the Touring Club of Italy never left the dining room.

In those years, it wasn’t a good idea to drink water that wasn’t served in a sealed bottle. The dining room had none, so I requested beer and was served a local beer. Two other diners finally appeared. Though Syrian, they ordered a foreign beer. Whatever they knew that I didn’t know, my bottle was big enough to swallow their bottles and my beer looked and tasted like beer, even if it was listed as “mineral water” on my bill.

An hour later, one of my Syrian counterparts arrived to escort me to Aleppo’s main attraction, the Citadel.

Citadel of Aleppo

Wikipedia describes the Citadel as one of the world’s oldest and largest castles, dating to at least the 3rd millennium BC. The current structure, mostly from the 13th century, fills the top of an elliptical mound, 165 feet high, whose base is nearly 1500 ft by 1100 ft and top is about 935 ft by 525 ft. A moat was added in the 12th century. Progress in archaeological digs and restoration since my visit is reflected in Wikipedia’s description.
Entrance to the Citadel, Aleppo, Syria, 1982.
Walking through Aleppo's Citadel, 1982.
The amphitheater in Aleppo's Citadel is reportedly used for concerts and cultural events. Left photo shows amphitheater; right photo views Citadel wall from amphitheater.1982. 

City of Hama
Restaurant we frequented in Hama, 1983.

We spent two nights in Hama in a hotel that made my Aleppo hotel seem luxurious. Hama is Syria’s fourth largest city, 130 miles north of Damascus, founded on the biblical site of Hamath.

The city is famous for its norias–waterwheels used to lift water. The norias trace back to Byzantine times and were used to deliver water from the Orontes River to distribution systems for domestic or agricultural use. Although no longer used, 17 norias still stand, their diameters as large as about 65 ft (Wikipedia).

Norias (waterwheels) in Hama, Syria, 1983.
Wrap Up 

Have you had enough of my Syrian posts? I could tell you about two more sites that, like Bosra, fell into the knock-my-socks-off category, or I could hold off. Please let me know your preference by commenting on the blog or emailing me at retirednowwhat@cox.net.

Thank you and thanks for stopping by. I'll write again in about a week.

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