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Citadel at Aleppo Citadel at Aleppo

Wikipedia CC BY-SA3.0 - Memorino

Transliterated Name Source Name
Aleppo English
Alep French
Halab Arabic ﺣَﻠَﺐ
ash-Shahbaa Arabic nickname الشهباء
Khalibon Antiquity
Khalpe Antiquity
Beroea Ancient Greek Βέροια
Beroea Latin
Aram-Zobah Rabbinic usage
Ha-lam Ebla tablets
Hadad 3rd millennium BCE
Halab Old Babylonian Empire
Halab Old Assyrian Empire

Aleppo in Northern Syria has been occupied since remote antiquity and although its fortunes have waxed and waned with numerous constructions and destructions in its past, it appears to have been occupied continuously. Aleppo came under Muslim control in 636 CE. A major mosque was built in the early 8th century CE which has not survived due to various destructions and fire visited on the city ( Wayne T. Pitard in Meyers et al, 1997). A Byzantine Cathedral just south of this mosque, however, has survived and currently exists as a madrassa. A few vestiges of the Great Synagogue built during this period by Aleppo's then large and prosperous Jewish community have also survived. Because the city has been continuously occupied for millennia, little archaeological work has been done ( Wayne T. Pitard in Meyers et al, 1997). From the mid-eighth until the mid-twelfth century, Aleppo suffered a significant decline. Repairs were made to the major structures of earlier periods, but little new development took place in the city ( Wayne T. Pitard in Meyers et al, 1997).

Aerial Views
Aerial Views

  • Citadel of Aleppo in Google Earth

7th century CE earthquake(s)

Gonella's Excavations

Gonnella (2006:168-169) reports that excavations in the Citadel at Aleppo uncovered Byzantine Umayyad remains and that a textual source (Ibn al-Shibna, al-Durr al-muntakhab. 40) wrote that Muslim conquerors rebuilt the walls of the citadel after they were ruined by an earthquake. Initial Muslim conquest of Aleppo occurred in 636 CE. Gonnella's (2006:168-169) reports on Pre-Ayyubid [before 1171 CE] remains is repeated below:

The Pre-Ayyubid Architecture

Pre-Ayyubid remains proved to be very few. Only some wall remnants on the west side of the mound halfway down the hill obviously belong to an earlier period (Fig. 3). It is tempting to associate these walls with the Zangid [1127-1250 CE] fortification, that according to literary sources must have been at a lower level, at least the entrance situation, which explicitly was destroyed by Ghàzi [Ayyubid Emir of Aleppo from 1186-1216 CE] and replaced by his massive entrance tower only to be reached by the bridge. It is interesting to note that the treatment of the stones of these walls is very close to a pre-Ayyubid building with a staircase discovered in the excavations, which, however, is not yet dated with certainty.

It is extremely unfortunate that no time was given to document a survey carried out by the engineers of the university of Aleppo in 1998 that studied the stability of the citadel mound. For this, they systematically drilled 115 different size soundings all around the present ring wall, half way up the citadel mound and also in die ditch. In some of the soundings at the southern and eastern side of the citadel steep walls appeared which we believe to be Ayyubid foundation walls rather than older walls but it would have been interesting to analyse them more closely.

The only other Pre-Ayyubid traces are non-military and were found in the course of the recent excavations. A larger building complex with a kitchen can be dated to the Byzantine-Umayyad (building period 5) period8 with two large pithoi (Fig. 4) and a steatite vessel on four legs among the more attractive small finds. The glorious Hamdanid period [890-1004 CE] is only documented by contemporary pottery: particularly attractive is a rather splendid 10th century splashed ware bowl: an import brought from Basra to Aleppo. Rather interesting are also parts of a major building constructed of mixed stone and bricklayers with a well-built canal, that we attribute to the Mirdasid period [1024-1080 CE] (building period 4). A section of this canal was covered with reused altar railings. According to textual evidence, the Mirdasids reigning in Aleppo in the eleventh century built rather splendid palaces on the citadel and converted the two churches into mosques and for sure, these stone railings were part of the former church inventory.

8 From historical sources we know that the Muslim conquerors rebuilt the walls of the citadel after they were ruined by an earthquake, see for example Ibn al-Shibna, al-Durr al-muntakhab. 40.

Earthquake Catalogs

Ambraseys (2009)

AD 638 Aleppo

An earthquake in northern Syria severely damaged Aleppo, bringing the citadel and the walls down. These were rebuilt after the Muslim conquest of the city.

The date of this earthquake, for which there are no contemporary sources, is problematic. Ibn Shaddad, a thirteenth-century writer, says that before Abu ‘Ubayda conquered Aleppo in the a.H. 15 (14 February 636 to 1 February 637) there was a severe earthquake, which caused the citadel and the walls to collapse. Kemal al-Din says, however, that, when Abu Obeidah took Aleppo, the walls of the city, as well as those of the citadel, had to be repaired and in parts rebuilt, having been thrown to the ground before the conquest of the city (Ibn Habib, Durr. 31). Abu Obeidah captured Aleppo in the spring or summer of AD 638 after considerable efforts had been made to scale the fortifications of the citadel, which were impregnable (Blochet 1895, 548). It seems, therefore, unlikely that the earthquake occurred before the conquest of the city. Ibn Shaddad places the fall of Aleppo to 15 a.H. (14 February 636 to 1 February 637; Ibn Shaddad: al-A’laq. i. 1.23). Also see Mich. Syr. (CH ii. 419).

Guidoboni et al. place this event in AD 634 at the same time as the Palestinian earthquake, although, since they state that the two events were possibly distinct owing to the distance, the date seems hard to justify (Guidoboni et al. 1994, 356). I can find little evidence in the text that the earthquake took place then.


‘When Abu ‘Ubayda captured Aleppo [in a.H. 15] the walls of the citadel were decaying because of an earthquake that had occurred before the conquests [of Syria]. The walls of the town and the citadel were destroyed and the repairs were not solid. He moved [there] after that and (re)built it(?).’ (Ibn Shaddad I/i. 23)


Ambraseys, N. N. (2009). Earthquakes in the Mediterranean and Middle East: a multidisciplinary study of seismicity up to 1900.

Guidoboni et al (1994)

(237) 634 •Aleppo


  • Ibn Shaddad, A'laq 1.23
  • Taher (1979)
  • Poirier et al. (1980)
  • Poirier and Taher (1980)
The Arab geographer Ibn Shaddad records the rebuilding of the walls of Aleppo two years after the tremors mentioned by al-Makin - see entry 236 [Sword in the Sky Quake]:
When Abir`Ubayda conquered the city of Aleppo [in the year 15 of the Hegira = 14 February 636 - 1 February 637 A.D.], the walls and the citadel were restored, for an earthquake before the conquest had destroyed them. The work of restoration was not carried out skillfully, so there was a new collapse, and [the walls and the citadel] were rebuilt.
Although the tremors which struck Jerusalem and Aleppo presumably occurred in the same year (634 A.D.), there may have been two separate earthquakes, since the two cities are a great distance apart.


Guidoboni, E., et al. (1994). Catalogue of Ancient Earthquakes in the Mediterranean Area up to the 10th Century. Rome, Istituto nazionale di geofisica.

Notes and Further Reading

Articles and Books

T. Allen, Ayyubid Architecture. 6th ed. (Solipsist Press, Occidental, California: Electronic Publication) 1999

Gaube , Heinz, and Eugen Wirth. Aleppo: Historische und geographische Beitrage zur baulichen Gestaltung, zur sozialen Organisation und zur wirtschaftlichen Dynamik einer vorderasiatischen Femhandelsmelropole. Beihefte zum Tubinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, 58. Wiesbaden, 1984. commentary by Wayne T. Pitard - Excellent study of the city; a very different interpretation of its growth from the Hellenistic through Byzantine periods from that of Sauvaget.

Klengel, Horst. Syria: 3000 to 300 B.C. A Handbook of Political History. Berlin, 1992. commentary by Wayne T. Pitard - A less detailed, but more current study. See especially chapter 2.

Gonnella, J. et al (2005). Die Zitadelle von Aleppo und der Tempel des Wettergottes: neue Forschungen und Entdeckungen. Münster, Rhema-Verlag.

Gonnella, J., 2006. The Citadel of Aleppo: recent studies. In H. Kennedy (ed.), Muslim Military Architecture in Greater Syria. From the Coming of Islam to the Ottoman Period (Leiden: Brill), 165-75. 168-9

Gonnella, J., Guidebook the Citadel of Aleppo

Gonnella, J. (2009). The Citadel of Aleppo: Description, History, Site Plan, and Visitor Tour, Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Herzfeld, E., Matériaux pour un corpus inscriptionum arabicarum. Deuxième partie:Syrie du Nord.Inscriptions et monuments d’Alep. Cairo (1954/55) (MIFAO 36-38).

Klengel, Horst. Geschichte Syriens im 2. Jahrtausend v.u.Z. Teili-Nordsyrien. Berlin, 1965. commentary by Wayne T. Pitard - By far the best (though now somewhat dated) study of the city during its early period of greatness. Chapters 7-1 0 deal with Aleppo during the second millennium BCE.

Korn, L., Ayyubidische Architekturin Ägypten und Syrien. Bautätigkeit im Kontext von Politik und Gesellschaft 564-658/1169-1260,Heidelberg 2004

Meinecke, M., Die mamlukische Architektur in Ägypten und Syrien (648/1250 bis 923/1517). Glåckstadt (1992)

Sauvaget, Jean. Alep: Essai sur le diveloppemenl d'une grande ville syrienne, des origines an milieu de XIXe si'ecle. Paris, 1941. commentary by Wayne T. Pitard - Classic study of the city, which should now be read in conjunction with the volume by Gaube and Wirth. Because of the meager evidence for the early periods, Sauvaget depends heavily on parallels from other Syrian cities.

Tabbaa, Y. Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo. Philadelphia (1997)

Historical Sources

Blochet, E. (1895), ‘L’histoire d’Alep de Kemal-al Din’, Revuede l’Orient Latin, 3, sub ann.

Ibn Habib, Durrat al-aslak fi dauilat al-trak, II Cairo MS 22962, f. 333; ed. P. Leander, Le monde oriental, vol. 7, Uppsala, 1907.

Ibn Shaddad, al-Nawadir al-sultaniyya wa’l-nahasin al-Yusufiyya, Cairo, 1928.

Kemal al-Din (C), Extraits de la Chronique d’Alep par Kemal ´ad-Din, RHC H. Or., vol. 3, 1884.

Kemal al-Din (Zubd., A), Zubdat al-halab-min tarikh Halab, ROL, vol. 3, 1896, pp. 509–565.

Kemal al-Din (R), Die Sahne der Geschichte Halebs, in R. Rohricht, part 3, pp. 209–346

Excavation Reports

J. Gonnella, "Excavations on the Citadel of Aleppo: the Islamic Layers", Archéologie Islamique

Wikipedia pages

The Citadel of Aleppo

The Citadel of Aleppo (in German)

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