One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Aleppo preserves remnants of more than four millennia of Near Eastern history. The Citadel of Aleppo is a densely layered microcosm of this long and complex history. The majority of the structures on the citadel were erected by the Ayyubids in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but substantial structures are also preserved from the Ottoman period (beginning in the sixteenth century). The citadel was built on a natural limestone outcropping rising some 100 feet (30 meters) above the level of the surrounding plain. Its high walls, imposing entry bridge, and great gateway remain largely intact and dominate the skyline of the city. Within its walls, the fabric of the citadel’s inner spaces has been compromised by a succession of invasions, earthquakes, and natural decay caused by exposure to the elements. Recent excavations uncovered substantial remains of an important Bronze Age neo-Hittite temple, in use for the most part of the third and second millennia B.C. The temple is decorated with an elaborate system of reliefs that depict deities and fantastic creatures and that are an important addition to the record of this early period in Syria’s history.
2002 World Monuments Watch
From 2002 through 2010, WMF worked in partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture on a project that addressed the conservation of the fortifications and the most significant structures of the citadel as well as the interpretation of the site for visitors. This comprehensive program has resulted in several separate projects: the conservation of part of the Ayyubid palace and its baths, the walls of the western citadel, the Ottoman barracks, the conservation of a large underground cistern from the Ayyubid period, the conservation of the palace gatehouse, and a plan for the conservation and shelter of the Bronze Age neo-Hittite Temple of the Storm God. The program also includes training a local conservation staff and capacity building for the community. WMF is presently focused on the conservation and presentation of the Bronze Age Temple of the Storm God, which requires a design solution that will preserve the sculptural reliefs and protect the site from erosion, as it cannot be left open to the elements. In 2011, WMF suspended its work of support following the onset of civil conflict in Syria. A missile attack on August 11, 2012 damaged the citadel’s massive gate and destroyed the iron doors, dating to 1211.
The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the Middle East’s foremost monuments. Until conflict erupted in 2011, it received hundreds of thousands of visitors, many of whom were from outside the region. The collaboration between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and WMF resulted in the thorough documentation of the site and conservation work of the highest quality. Significant structures on the citadel were stabilized and conserved, enabling them to be adaptively reused and more fully interpreted for visitors. While the conflict continues in Aleppo between government forces and rebels, WMF is concerned about the safety of the citadel, especially the monumental stone frieze of the Temple of the Storm God. The discovery of Middle and Late Bronze and Iron Age temples at the Citadel of Aleppo presented an unusual opportunity to bring together conservators and archaeologists to collaborate on the preservation of a major archaeological site during its excavation, and to work on a long-term plan for its protection and presentation.