The stories and photos out of Syria in 2017 bear witness to the toll of six years of war: entire cities reduced to rubble, families lost, lives destroyed — a devastating saga of war and destruction.
Attention turned to Aleppo about a year and a half into the conflict when rebels and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces began battling in the city’s streets. What was once Syria’s financial capital was split into two contrasting halves: the east, controlled by rebel forces and often bombarded by airstrikes and barrel bombs, and the west, a purported bastion of normalcy held by the government.
Assad’s forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, ousted the rebels from the east in December and regained control of the entire city.
Before the war, Aleppo was a tourist destination, known for many of the same characteristics that make other cities in the Middle East popular with travelers: food, culture and history. We asked readers to share their memories of what Aleppo was like before the fighting and to send in their personal photos.
From Greg Swedosh of Australia, on his visit in 1998:
My wife and I traveled in a camper van from the U.K. to Syria. We arrived in Aleppo at night and, not knowing the city, stopped in a random parking lot to cook up some dinner. Nearby were a group of boys noisily playing soccer. They saw our van and curiously came over to check us out. They spoke no English and we spoke no Arabic, so verbal communication was pretty much non-existent. One boy offered us a couple of biscuits in a token of goodwill. We gratefully accepted and it was smiles all round.
From Jamal Kharrat, who lived in Aleppo from 1993 to 2012:
The city was always crowded. Famous for good food. The picture was taken close to where I lived. To the right of this picture, you can see is the Franciscan Church, which was built during the French mandate in Syria (I think). The city captures a lot of histories and peoples. You can see that in the building and the different people.
From Anna Kroutl of the Czech Republic, who visited in 1984:
This picture is of my ex-husband Maher Helal, no longer living in Aleppo at that time just visiting his parents there, and his two children Nadia and Juan (being carried). We were visiting a newly built housing scheme for engineers where he had booked an apartment for us. The building is of typical pale orange-hue marble, of which most of Aleppo is built. At spring time the city’s gardens smelled of orange and lemon blossoms. It was a beautiful sophisticated city; very good food.
From John Stavinoha of Texas, who visited in 2010:
This was not long before the civil war began. Part of the visit was to the Aleppo Citadel. We arrived in the late afternoon and the weather was beautiful and the light was beautiful and we walked to the top where there was this mosque complex. It was not a large mosque, but from there you had an excellent view of the city. I saw these two women enjoying a quiet moment next to the dome of the mosque and I took this photograph.
From Aleppototheworld, who lived in Aleppo from 1995 to 2012:
A heavenly place. The richest place on earth in terms of culture, heritage, civilization, cuisine, architecture, and most importantly love.
From Bertrand Largeron of France, who visited in 1999:
An Aleppo street in December.
From Stacy Fiorentinos of New York, who visited in 2010:
Marketplaces were once a place of abundance and nourishment. This bread vendor has everything from simple loaves to pastries filled with yummy fruit jam.
From James Sernovitz of Florida, who visited in 2010:
Inside the main souk of Aleppo. Just about anything you could possibly want to buy could be found there.
From Keith D. Watenpaugh of California, who lived in Aleppo from 1994 to 1996:
I lived in Aleppo and Damascus for several years in the 1990s as a student and later to finish research for my first book. I was one of the only Americans living in the city. I remember how much I enjoyed walking the streets of the city — not just the old city — and talking, just talking with people. Once the secret police figured I was harmless, I was left alone and began to understand the city.
From Sima Moudarres, who lived in Aleppo from 1995 to 2012:
It’s the happiest place on earth. Waking up to the sound of Athan [the call to prayer] in the breezy morning, then shines the sun and the hype begins everywhere. Later it’s time to enjoy a good Aleppian meal with the family. The afternoons are the best, you can hear music coming from passing cars, yet there is a serenity in it all. And the nights never end, we stay up late for hangouts in the car and sitting in cafes around the Citadel.
From Clara Abi Nader, who visited in 2009-2010:
After hours of walking in the city, I rested on the side of the old citadel, just standing there, looking around and holding my camera. A teenage girl came up to me and asked me some questions. When I said I was a photographer she smiled and said how lucky I was to be able to do that. Later, I got invited into a house and was offered tea, then walking again in the old souk I ran into these two kids. They reminded me of me and my brother. Today this photograph haunts me.