There is a relatively clear division between old and new Aleppo. The older portions were contained within a wall, 3 miles in circuit with seven gates. The medieval castle in the city is built atop a huge partially artificial mound rising 50 m above the city, the current structure dates from the 13th century and had been extensively damaged by earthquakes, notably in 1822.
The city has many mosques including the Madrasa Halawiya. A temple that once stood on the site was rebuilt as Aleppo's great Byzantine cathedral founded by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great and containing a tomb reputed to be that of John the Baptist's father. During the Crusades, when the invaders pillaged the surrounding countryside, the city's chief judge converted St. Helena's cathedral into a mosque, and in the middle of the 12th century the famous leader Nur al-Din founded the madrasa or religious school that has encompassed the former cathedral.
The Al-Jami al-Kabir (Great Mosque) was originally built by the Umayyads, although the present structure begun for Nur al-Din dates from 1158, and a rebuilding after the Mongol invasion of 1260. As an ancient trading centre Aleppo also has impressive souqs and commercial courtyard khans. The city was significantly redesigned after WW II; in 1952 the French architect Andre Gutton had a number of wide new roads cut through the city to allow modern traffic easier passage. In the 1970s, large parts of the older city were demolished to allow for the construction of modern flat blocks.
The main role of the city was as a trading place, it sat at the crossroads of two trade routes and mediated the trade from India, the Tigris and Euphrates regions and the route coming from Damascus in the south, which traced the base of the mountains rather than the rugged seacoast. Although trade was often directed away from the city for political reasons, it continued to thrive until the Europeans began to use the Cape route to India and later to utilise the route through Egypt to the Red Sea. Since then the city has declined and its chief exports now are the agricultural product of the surrounding region, mainly wheat and cotton, pistachios, olives and sheep.
History The site has been occupied from around 1800 BCE, as recorded in the Hittite records. It grew as the capital of the kingdom of Yamkhad until the ruling Amorite dynasty was overthrown around 1600 BCE. The city remained under Hittite control until maybe 800 BCE before passing through the hands of the Assyrians and the Persian Empire before being captured by the Greeks in 333 BCE, when Seleucus Nicator renamed the settlement Beroea. The city remained in Greek or Seleucid hands until 64 BCE when Syria was conquered by the Romans. The city became part of the Byzantine Empire before falling into Arabic hands from 637 until the 10th century when a resurgent Byzantine Empire briefly regained control from 974 to 987. The city was twice besieged by Crusaders, in 1098 and in 1124 but was not conquered. It came under the control of Saladin and then the Ayyubid dynasty from 1183 and remained in Arab hands until it was taken by the Mongols in 1260, returning to Arab hands in 1317 before it became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, when the city had around 50,000 inhabitants. The city remained part of the Ottoman Empire until its collapse but it was still occasionally riven with internal feuds as well as attacks of the plague and later cholera from 1823. By 1901 its population was around 125,000. The city was revived when it came under French colonial rule but slumped again following the decision to give Antioch to Turkey in 1938-1939.