First Published: 2017-05-26

German map project to aid future rebirth of Aleppo
Scholars preparing for Aleppo's reconstruction one day by creating a super-detailed map of the old city and its treasures.
Middle East Online

Some 16,000 plots have been traced, as well as 400 floor plans of the main buildings

ALEPPO - With its battered facades, pulverised houses and skeletons of buildings, one of the world's oldest cities, Aleppo, has been utterly devastated by the war in Syria.

Now, in Germany, scholars are preparing for its reconstruction one day by creating a super-detailed map of the old city and its treasures, long listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In a bright office of a university campus in Cottbus in the former East Germany, urban planner Christoph Wessling runs his index finger through the labyrinth of alleys and streets of Aleppo.

Spread across his large desk lies a huge map, measuring two by 2.5 metres (more than six by eight feet), drawn to a scale of 1:500.

It is an exceptional document that replicates the walled ancient city with its souks, hammams, mosques, churches and residential dwellings, with infinite precision and loving detail.

In total, some 16,000 plots have been traced, as well as 400 floor plans of the main buildings of this city, which has been inhabited continuously for over 6,000 years.

As the academic traces the ancient web of streets and alleys of the Silk Road city, his minds drifts back to a place that a 12th century poem described as being as old as eternity.

- Hidden gems -

Aleppo was a city of hidden gems, recalled Wessling, who was a frequent visitor to the northern Syrian metropolis before the start of the war in 2011.

"In Aleppo, we would enter a house whose austere facade was absolutely nothing special," he said.

"And then suddenly we came upon a chain of three enchanting inner courtyards with richly decorated pillars."

That was life before the country's commercial centre was divided between the rebel-held east and the loyalist-controlled west and became a main battleground of the civil war.

Aleppo became the scene of a major humanitarian tragedy in late 2016, before it was captured by the army of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran.

In coming weeks the map, created by six experts with a budget of 60,000 euros ($67,000), will be put online and made available to anyone wishing to participate in the eventual reconstruction of Aleppo.

The online map will feature "all the site plans, photos and descriptions of a given place", according to the university, which is handling the project with the German foreign ministry and German Archaeological Institute.

"We are not politicians," said Wessling. "But as urbanists, we wanted to lay a foundation" so that the city can one day recover some of its peculiar splendour.

The hope is, he added, that construction companies don't simply bulldoze the ruins and build hotels and shopping malls atop the ancient rubble.

- Rest of Aleppo? -

Syrian Cottbus student Zeido Zeido, 29, who is preparing a doctoral thesis on his hometown Aleppo, warns against excessive attention to the old city.

He said "there are other districts with more recent architectural styles that need to be protected, such as late 19th-century buildings" from the era when Aleppo was one of the main cities of the Ottoman Empire.

"There is no national heritage protection plan for the districts which are not classified by UNESCO," he added.

The challenge of reconstruction will be immense, according to researchers at the Cottbus faculty of architecture.

According to UNESCO, about 60 percent of the old city was badly damaged and, of this area, 30 percent was totally destroyed.

In the souk, once one of the largest covered markets in the world, the stalls and wooden doors have been reduced to ashes.

The minaret of the famed Umayyad mosque collapsed four years ago, and the monumental Citadel has suffered "considerable damage" as have the caravan stops once used by Silk Road traders.

The Technical University of Brandenburg, Cottbus campus, was chosen to create the map because its architecture faculty has a long tradition of exchanges with that of Aleppo.

And Germany, given its World War II bombing, has a wealth of experience in rebuilding its cities, having also restored many urban centres after its 1990 national reunification.

At Cottbus, Zeido Zeido's thoughts wander off again to the city 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) away, recalling the days when he would "hang out in the streets with my friends".

But what he misses most is the sandy hue of Aleppo, "a city built with a peculiar stone that gave it a unique colour" -- and a feeling that the map before him, however precise, cannot bring back to life.

 

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Erdogan meddles in German politics

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

Civilians stay on frontlines despite dangers in Raqa

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land

Turkey arrests 9 more journalists for alleged ‘Gulen links’

Iran’s Karroubi on hunger strike over 6-year house arrest

Saudi Arabia to restart work on Grand Mosque expansion

Algeria reshuffles cabinet, nominates three new ministers

Syria rebels lose heavyweight faction

ICC orders Mali ex-jihadist pay 2.7 m euros for Timbuktu destruction

Libya seeks to ‘organise’ NGOs carrying migrant rescue Ops

More than one million South Sudan refugees in Uganda

Beirut, Damascus pledge to boost economic ties

Two killed on Gaza-Egypt border

Qataris to do hajj on Saudi king expenses

Fire breaks out at UNESCO heritage site in Saudi Arabia

Iran military chief in Turkey for talks on Syrian war

Saudi Electricity announces $1.75b in international loans

Israel to strip Jazeera journalist of press credentials

Bahrain state media accuses Qatar of trying to topple regime