It felt like someone robbed me of my home, took my soul out of my body, stole our heritage.

Hasan Ahmad Swaidan,
Souk shop owner
to start

The old souk used to be full of life, goods and people. We had a ritual with my friends: after shopping we’d have lunch or coffee around the Citadel.

Seba Al-Kadi,
Souk client


year-old souk

The Al-Saqatiya section of Aleppo’s souk in Syria is over 1,000 years old, covers more than 1,500 square metres, including a 100-metre-long cobblestone alley, and used to house 53 shops before the conflict started there in 2012.

When I first came back here, I saw horrific scary scenes that I will never forget; the destruction was too much for the mind to bear.

Haj Yassen abo Hilal,

The Al-Madina Souk in Aleppo was the world’s largest covered market located in northern Syria at a confluence of ancient Silk Road trade routes that linked Asia to the Middle East and Europe. It was a cultural melting pot and cosmopolitan trading centre for textiles, precious metals, spices and more, dating back centuries and continuing into the modern era.

The bazaar’s 13 kilometres of tall, narrow alleys were lined with thousands of shops, as well as guesthouses, cafes, public baths, and mosques on the western edge of Aleppo’s mediaeval walled citadel. The souk was a place of commerce and employment, of social life and Syrian culture, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As the conflict intensified between 2013 and 2016, Al-Madina Souk was almost completely destroyed, along with much of the rest of the historic city. The vast market was the soul of Aleppo, but it was also the city’s financial heart and played an important role in industries across Syria and the Middle East, so when the merchants and craftsmen fled, along with the traders and shoppers they served, commerce cratered, deepening the misery for the city’s remaining residents. When the Souk was turned to ruin, a fundamental part of Aleppo’s economy and cultural identity were buried in its rubble.

Aerial view of Aleppo Old Bazaar

  • 60%

    of the city severely damaged

    An estimated 30% of the old city of Aleppo was destroyed by the fighting between 2013 and 2016, and 60% severely damaged, including the centuries-old historic bazaar.

  • 120,000

    people displaced

    Intensification of conflict in Syria in late 2016 left some 121,350 people from Eastern Aleppo displaced, with roughly half choosing to remain close by in the hope of quickly returning once the fighting ended.

The once-busy alleys of the Al Madina souk are now choaked with debris and twisted metal, the souk’s distinctive architecture is destroyed, its artisanal workshops, antique and diamond traders, and laurel soap factories shuttered and damaged.

As skilled craftsmen with expertise handed down through generations fled the conflict, Aleppo was diminished with, for example, just 40 goldsmith workshops still operating today, down from 1,200 before the war. Trade was disrupted and civilians’ daily struggle to find basic commodities became ever harder, and the destruction of shops meant the loss of jobs and income for workers and business owners.

They took our only source of income from us.

Hasan Ahmad Swaidan,
Souk shop owner

But the Souk was more than a market, it was an informal town hall—the place to meet and discuss city-wide issues—and a social centre for catching up with friends and neighbours, filled with meaning, and a source of collective memories for the city’s residents.

Where the working Souk represented urban life in Aleppo, its ruins stand for the destruction warfare can bring upon a city’s identity, culture, heritage, and economy. The Souk has been lost before, whether through conquest or natural disaster, and has risen from the ruins, but this time the cost of rebuilding and restoration is proving immense, compounded by the broader economic crisis, and more recently devastating earthquakes that hit Aleppo and several areas in north-west Syria.

Rebuilding has begun—gradually, one part at a time — but not at the scale needed to revive trade. The costs of the damage are more wide-ranging: without the bazaar, the city of Aleppo loses its cultural identity and its history, as well as its economic security and future.


of millions USD

The restoration of just one portion of the Al-Madina took eight months and cost 400,000 US dollars. Rebuilding the entire Aleppo bazaar will take years and come with a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars.


The elders said it’s too late for them to rebuild and restart their business, that maybe their sons will do it.

Hasan Ahmad Swaidan,
Souk shop owner

Urban warfare takes an especially high toll on a population’s cultural identity through the deliberate or careless destruction of historic buildings, monuments, intellectual or artistic legacies. Cultural property is protected under international humanitarian law because, beyond the bricks, cement and artefacts, it represents a people’s heritage and a community’s collective social memory.

Conflict in cities and towns also causes catastrophic and long-lasting disruption to markets and other infrastructure, undermining the economic security, social fabric and future of urban populations which are particularly vulnerable as they rely upon trade, services and informal networks for survival.

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Mosul / Iraq