Aleppo: A Syrian Christmas

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Beit Wakil, Our Home in Aleppo:
The Old City of Aleppo-Click for a larger imageThe Old City of Aleppo is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and shops. This alley at the entrance to the Old City also led to Beit Wakil, whose sign and awning are visible  to the left. Beit Wakil is an old merchant serai that has been renovated into a charming 14-room hotel. It served as our base of operations for our visit to Aleppo.


Click here for a larger imageClick for a larger view of our balcony roomWe could not imagine a nicer setting for our stay in Aleppo. The hotel is centered around the courtyard pictured at the right, and the rooms are all arrayed around this central point. Our room, shown at the left was one floor up from the courtyard. The room was very traditional, dark wood with equally dark woven rugs on the floor, a bed and nightstand--definitely a no-frills room. For privacy one closes the wooden shutters. Except for electricity and CNN, the room could have been from a century earlier.

An Armenian Christmas:
Click here for a larger imageClick here for a larger imageAs we were here over Christmas, we took part in the celebrations. Christmas in an Islamic country? Well, Syria has a large Armenian population, located in this section of the old city (the Jdaide Quarter). For Christmas eve we enjoyed an Armenian style Christmas dinner at the Sissi house, another restored merchant home, this one converted into a beautiful restaurant. The main dining hall was the central courtyard. Because of the cold weather, it had a canvas ceiling and the entire area was heated. It was a spectacular setting as we settled in to a main course of turkey. You haven't lived until you have had mezze with Turkey!

Cantata...Oh Oh Oh Oh!:
Click here for a larger imageClick here for a larger imageNothing says vacation like travel...and FOOD! While the Sissi house was a lovely setting, and sharing a Christmas meal with a roomful of festive Armenians is a rare treat, our quest for great food took us a bit farther afield. The next day we discovered an amazing Italian restaurant several winding blocks away, Cantata. Another dining hall built around an old courtyard, its fresh calamari, soups, pastas and pizzas were not to be believed. The truth be told, we spent the next five meals eating there. So, the next several days were broken up by sight-seeing, followed by Italian food. Then shopping, followed by Italian food. As always, we were served by a friendly staff who probably thought we couldn't manage to find any other restaurants. The fact is, we didn't want to.

The Citadel:
Click here for larger imageClick here for larger imageOverlooking Aleppo on the only piece of high ground to be seen for miles is the one of the jewels of Aleppo's ancient history, the Citadel. Access to the fortress is gained through the monumental gateway (shown at the left) and from there you ascend a very steep fifty meters above the rest of Aleppo. Like many of the ancient ruins from this part of the world, the Citadel has been used by (and used to repel) many of the conquerors who traveled to this part of the world--Franks, Mamelukes, Mongols,  and Abbassids. Once up to the top, there is an inner wall for secondary defense. Within those walls one can find a bath complex, the Mosque of Abraham, where the patriarch was said to milk his cows (shown to the right), as well as various settlements, barracks, and palaces, some dating from as early as the 13th century. Below is a video prepared by the Japanese broadcasting company NHK in cooperation with UNESCO, and explains the Citadel in more detail. Like Krak des Chevaliers, it too has been severely damaged by the Syrian civil war and has only recently reopened.

Video Tour of the Citadel, Aleppo

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