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The road from Hama to Aleppo in January 2017. The area on the left side of the picture is occupied by the Islamic State, the area on the right by Jahabat al Nusra. A skeleton of a destroyed bus stands at the roadside. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

“We wanted to understand who is really ruling the country now, to see if there will be a chance of reconciliation in the close future,” photographer Christian Werner told In Sight. He and reporter Fritz Schaap drove the route in Syria that took them through the three largest cities, Aleppo, Latakia and Homs. In a two-part essay for Der Spiegel, Schaap described part of their route, which Werner’s photos echo. “Burned-out military vehicles and buses line the route while unexploded missiles jut from the brown, barren soil like cactuses.”

Each city gave a different view into the country. Aleppo symbolized the intense bombing, while Latakia, a city on the Mediterranean coast, remains largely undisturbed. The two cities offered the visual dichotomy of urban destruction versus freshly painted vacation homes. Homs falls in between as the city ruined by the war that is to be the example of reconstruction.


A little girl is standing in the ruins and looks up into the sky for fighter jets in East Aleppo in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

A portrait of butcher Ahmed Toubal, who fled Aleppo before the war, seen here in East Aleppo in January 2017. Recently, he decided to return to his old home and reopen his restaurant. His father stands at left. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

Children play in Aleppo in January 2017. A week before, snipers shot at every person on the street. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

A chained dog and a boy in front of the coastal promenade in Latakia in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

Landmark waterwheels in Hama in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

A detail of a basketball court at a destroyed school in Homs in January 2017. Large parts of Homs are completely destroyed. Nevertheless, some inhabitants come back and try to rebuild their houses. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

A member of the pro-Assad government militia in a suburb of Aleppo in January 2017 (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

A child and his mother look for a beauty shop to find nail polish, on a destroyed street in East Aleppo in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

Werner and Schaap were in Aleppo during the official liberation announcement and Werner noted how striking it was to see people returning to the ruined streets. “Most of the homes were completely destroyed. IEDs and bombs weren’t cleared. The remaining inhabitants were searching for wood in the rubble, to burn in their small heaters. Then I saw a group of two veiled women and a highly traumatized child, straying through a destroyed makeup shop for useful remnants in the rubble. The kid found an intact flacon [bottle] of nail color. They disappeared as fast as they came.”


Two toddlers walk through the ruins of a destroyed street in East Aleppo in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

The citadel in Aleppo where hundreds of youths gathered to celebrate the city’s liberation in January 2017. (Christian Werner/Zeitenspiegel)

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