The Mahmandar Mosque was built in 1303 by Hassan ibn Blaban ibn al-Mahmandar, who gave the mosque its name. Its unique feature is the beautifully carved minaret, which exhibits central Asian influences in its architecture. The base of the minaret is square and the middle is octagonal, while the upper section is cylindrical and the top is flat. Each section is intricately decorated with different motifs. The mosque was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1822 and was not restored until 1946.
UPDATE: Sadly, in late September 2012, the minaret of Mahmandar Mosque was damaged in the indiscriminate shelling by government forces, during the civil war with the Free Syrian Army. Based on a photograph I saw, the minaret is still standing, but with a large hole through the base.
ANOTHER UPDATE: as of early April 2013, half of this mosque has been destroyed, including half of the dome. This is based on a photo posted to the Internet by activists (see attached).
Built in 1916, this late Ottoman edifice once housed the city hall of Aleppo (Municipality Building). It is one of numerous beautiful late Ottoman-period buildings surrounding the Citadel, constructed with heavy European architectural influence. Many of these buildings have found other functions, some becoming restaurants or hotels. For a while, the Municipality Building housed the Aleppo passport and immigration office - where tourists once queued up to extend their visas. Today, however, the passport office has relocated elsewhere, leaving the building vacant awaiting its fate. It is unclear what its future will be, though I hope it will not involve destruction.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: On 28 September, 2012, this building was severely damaged by shelling by the Syrian government. The side facing the citadel was obliterated.
Any visitor to Aleppo is likely to spend most of his or her time along the narrow cobbled alleys of the old city, amid carved stone façades of its palaces, khans and mosques. Old Aleppo is built entirely from stone and its narrow streets trace the grid laid out by the ancient Greeks who conquered the city under Alexander the Great and named it Beroea. To the west of the dominating Citadel - the city's ancient Acropolis - lies the heart of Old Aleppo, and within narrow alleys and between ancient monuments thrives its legendary souk. While guidebooks may provide detailed maps, one must allow oneself the pleasure of getting lost in the old city and discovering its many hidden surprises. The unmatched charm of old Aleppo and its history have earned it inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Attached are photos of some of the streets of old Aleppo. For more photos, also check out the travelogue: "Old Aleppo".
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Aleppo's old city is in serious danger because of the Syrian government's indiscriminate bombing campaign. Many of the city's treasures have been damaged, possibly beyond repair.
The Old City is a bewildering maze of narrow, twisting lanes and alleys - dusty, crumbling but generally reasonably clean. Apart from the obvious places like the souq, the Citadel, the hammams, madrassa and mosques, etc, there is much to interest the inquisitive aimless wanderer. Wonderful studded and carved doors leading where? Massive door knockers and dainty Hands of Fatima, carved lintels, latticed balconies, metal workshops with glowing braziers in their depths, minarets of every shape and height, a tiny cemetery on a little hill, a small square filled with fruit and vegetable barrows, one of the gates a remnant of the city walls. All this and much more, enough to keep you exploring as long as your feet hold out. A taxi back to your hotel will only cost you a dollar or so.
Aleppo's population growth in the past century has necessitated rapid expansion beyond its traditional boundaries. The modern city of Aleppo sprawls as far as the horizon and is home to approximately 3 million people. Apart from driving through the modern city, I saw very little of it. However, it was enough to notice that it suffered from the same problems that plague other rapidly expanding developing-world cities, such as pollution, congestion and overcrowding.
I totally loved Aleppo old town. Its just so beautiful, and you could quite easily like we did, get lost for hours in the maze of the narrow cobbled alleyways and streets. Women shuffled along in their black robes, Children played in the streets, riding their bikes and calling out "hello, hello".
The Old City begins at Bab Antakya, which was the central gate of the town until the 19th century, when the new city was established. Listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, the whole Old City is a “must see”. Numerous khans, mosques, (among them the Great Mosque which was under renovation when I was visiting and closed for the tourists) and the traditional Al-Joubaili Soap Factory (also closed and impossible to find out why and when it opens again) are among the places worth visit. You don’t need a guide to visit the city. Just walk around, enjoy the busy and at the same time relaxed atmosphere and everything you want to see is just few steps away.
The old city of Aleppo is simply amazing. Most of the buildings are medieval and all of them are made of stone.
The covered souk, that is one of the largest and more picturesque in the islamic world, covers a large area of the old city, and it is an amazing labyrinth of narrow street with any kind of goods and handicrafts.
Nevertheless, there are also some very quiet corners with a relaxed atmosphere.