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Rebuilding Aleppo’s Old City

Aleppo’s Old City, shelled, burned and shot up during years of fighting in Syria’s civil war, can be rebuilt, the local representative of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO said.

“Our vision is to rebuild the Old City exactly as it was before the war, with the same stones where we can,” said Mazen Samman, UNESCO’s associate program coordinator in Aleppo.

There are detailed plans for the Old City’s great medieval mosques, souks, bathhouses and citadel from an earlier restoration that should allow exact reconstruction, he said.

But while that may be true of the most treasured monuments, whole districts of less celebrated alleyways and traditional houses that gave the Old City its character are also now rubble.

Reviving the Old City is important for Syrian President Bashar Assad both as a symbol of the returning power of his state, but also because of Aleppo’s economic importance.

The fighting in Aleppo ended in December when the Syrian army drove out rebels, but they still hold swaths of the country, and Assad’s government is hobbled by Western sanctions.

Now gradual efforts are being made to revive the city, one of the oldest in the Middle East.

The United Nations and international cultural agencies say they are committed to preserving and restoring Syrian heritage, but it will ultimately rely on local effort.

Local government will need to ensure work fits the character of the Old City, both architecturally and in how land is divided between shops, houses and public spaces.

Reconstruction depends on the Old City’s 100,000 former residents choosing to return to their homes and businesses, many of which are now piles of stones and concrete.

But it also requires the skills of Aleppo craftsmen, many of whom left the city during the war, some killed, others departing with the rebels or starting new lives as refugees abroad. (Reuters)

Photo credits: Ali Hashisho/Reuters, Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters, Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

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Görsel : Eric Valli, photographer and French director. Himalayas, the Middle East and Nepal