Aleppo's souk is the best in Syria and perhaps the whole of the middle east. An entire day or more could be dedicated to exploring intriguing shops in a narrow grid of alleys with vaulted ceilings and stalactite domes, set along the straight roads that were once the Roman cardo maximus and decumanus maximus. Although the souk has existed since ancient times, much of what the visitor sees from an architectural perspective dates from the 13th to the 19th centuries. Much like Damascus, Aleppo is considered a "desert port" due to its location near the edge of the Syrian desert. It has thus served a terminal for desert caravans along trade routes, specifically, the Silk Road which passed through Asia and Mesopotamia. Aleppo's rise or fall throughout its history has been linked to the Silk Road. When the Romans conquered the eastern Mediterranean, Aleppo witnessed a slow decline as trade routes were diverted further south through Palmyra and into Antioch. It wasn't until the 13th century, when a treaty was signed between the Ayyubid rulers and the Republic of Venice to allow merchants from la Serenissima to settle and trade in Aleppo, that the city saw a renewed apogee. This zenith continued under the Mamlukes and Ottomans, as other European merchants followed the Venetians, but it came to an end with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as trade routes moved to sea.
The attached photos show some of the scenes in the souk of Aleppo. For more photos, click on the travelogue: "Shopping in the Aleppo Souk".
IMPORTANT UPDATE: On 29th September, 2012, large sections of the Aleppo souk were tragically damaged by a fire caused by the civil war between the government and the Free Syrian Army.
I was very excited to explore the markets of Aleppo. Everthing pleased my senses. Walking through this long alley i knew i have to passed through too many smelly, spicy different kinds of ingredients which i never knew before. They are too colorful to see and overfilled. All kinds of imported products from the neighbouring countries are being sold here such as luxury dry goods jewelries, leathers, silk, textiles and many others.. Local traders bring their agricultural products here as well like wool, nuts, foods and local delicacies, fruits and vegetables.
Accordingly, Aleppo has the longest covered Souq Markets in the world. Estimated to be 13 kms long. Shopping here is really lots of fun and the vendors are very friendly.
Go into the maze of souqs and be transported back in time! The covered souqs sell everything from camel humps to carpets and you can find little courtyards (khans) housing shops. Soap is big business in Aleppo and you can find many kinds of different fragrances here, most of which is hand-made.
Arguably, the souq is Aleppo's biggest attraction - even eclipsing the gigantic fairytale Citadel and the very atmospheric Al Jdeida quarters. It may lack the grandeur of Istanbul's Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar), and the rough-as-guts charm of Cairo's Khan el-Khalili, but it certainly is most authentic, charming, even exuding a deep sensuality that comes from a complete assault of the five senses: colorful aromatic spices, glittering gold, roaring motorbikes, unceasing honking from delivery vans, smell of raw blood from butchers' stalls only to be masked by powerful Arabic scents from the nearby perfumeries, lathery olive oil soaps, furry carpets, sweetness from unadulterated organic honey and the tastiest shawarmas (Arabic sandwich) on the planet!
Hands down, this is my favorite in all Aleppo. It's amazing how one of the most basic forms of social interaction, i.e. shopping/commerce, could be as entertaining and engrossing as this. The beauty behind Aleppo's souq is its authenticity - almost everything is geared for local trade, and souvenir shops for tourists are a rarity (think Khan el-Khalili in Cairo), as are pushy carpet salesmen (think Kapali Carsi in Istanbul).
To gain a different perspective of the souq, try coming here on a Friday as well, when almost every shop closes for the holy Islamic Friday. The whole place takes on a different aura - somber with a straight-from-a-horror-movie mood. But it gives you the chance to see that the souq - with its Ottoman motif - is in itself an attraction.
Please do visit my travelogues for more images from the souq.
One thing I loved in the Middle East was spending hours hiding from the blistering heat in the souqs! The shops are so interesting - No M&S here...LOL....I adored the spice shops and the antique style shops.
A labyrinth of tiny alleys, busy, noisy, full of colours and fragrances, Aleppo’s covered souq is fascinating and one of the bests in the Middle East. Some of its sections date from the 13th century, while others from the 16th-19th century. Little seems to have change here from the Ottoman’s era; a buzzing crowd of merchants, buyers, porters and donkeys are packing the tinny alleys. Only the presence of small trucks and motorbikes carrying merchandises or some western dressed people remind someone of the present. In this shopper’s paradise, the visitor can find everything: carpets, hand-woven fabrics, gold, silver, spices, perfumes and woodworks. Since Aleppo’s souq is still the centre of the everyday shopping for the locals, there are only few tourist shops and there isn’t any pressure to the visitors to buy. Nevertheless, there are young touts who will try to direct you to a certain shop, but a polite “no” or “maybe later” are enough to leave you alone. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the souq. This will probably end to be one of your best experiences in Aleppo!
The souq in Aleppo is the best souq I have seen in the Middle East. We ended up buying so much here because of the high quality of the merchandise and simply the nice atmosphere of the souq. The other nice thing was that there was not much hassle here. If you don't want something, Syrians won't hound you until you buy it. However, you still need to be careful not to take the first price they give you as you still can be overcharged.
We bargained for a very nice rug which is shown in the shopping tip, but mostly I enjoyed wander around, buying a little coffee and dates, and taking photos in the dark. One thing that can't be missed is the complex of retrofit wiring that comes in by the West Entrance. These wires provide the credit card and telephone communications, electrical, and now doubt now, high speed internet access cabling.
In contrast to the Damascus old city souq, the main street of which is covered by a relatively modern iron roof, Aleppo's souq is entirely enclosed by stone and brick domes and arches, and in fact the 30km of covered souq makes it the longest in the Middle East. This enclosed and dimly lit atmosphere provides added mystery rarely found today in most Middle Eastern souqs. Rugs, fabrics, gold jewelry, are among the tourist items, but produce and meats are also sold here.
Coming out from The Souqs, the sun was blindingly hot outside. The souqs were covered & we could get lost in them ! It's a good way to get lost I guess, if nobody harassing you buying anything.
If they do, just bargain.
The prices, as they say...are competetive.
When you are in Aleppo, even if you are not buying anything (like me !); Do wander inside the huge Aleppo souqs or market-place.
It is still the main commercial centre for people in Aleppo. Arguably almost anything you fancy could be found in here.
People told me that little has changed for the last few hundred years & it does show as you look at the walls surrounding the shops.
Parts of The Souqs are from the 13th century but what we see at present is largely from The Ottoman era (around 16th to 19th century ).MORE PHOTOS INSIDE THE SOUQS IN ALEPPO...
Aleppo's famous souqs are fascinating to explore, and this was one area in which I didn't mind getting lost. In some alleys, donkeys have right of way, transporting goods to shops deep in the domed maze. The low ceilings make the souqs much more intimate than the ones in Damascus...I think this is possibly the only place where, for me, Aleppo scores over Damascus. Unfortunately I don't seem to have any photos, but other people on VT do have plenty...they can also probably explain about them in a more eloquent way too!
the souq.. the wonderful charming souq! Not a very touristic one... actually very little touristic generally speaking, and a great place to wander around for hours and hours. The Aleppo souq is huge, and i don't know how many kilometres, but many anyway... most of it is covered too, and like any other souq is divinded into "areas" selling different things: shoes, fabrics, wool, nuts, spices, veggies, carpets, jewellery... anything you may want or need. It's a delight to the eyes, and to the smell: so many new smells, so many forgotten smells, so many familiar smells... and so many cute donkeys!
A truly nice souk... possibly the nicest of all when it comes down to architecture... all covered, spacious, quiet... and with very little on sale. Mind you, it's not even very touristic. if it weren't for the two shops specializing in Aabic calligraphy (closed, when I went there), and for the name, one would never know. Anyway you should visit it for the interesting decorations on the ceiling, and for the large "jars" on display there.
Covered bazaar has 12 km narrow roads. Fabrics, silver things, herbs etc. worth to see. It is not easy to walk sometimes. There are some small bazaars too. Don't forget to bargaining.