Citadel of Aleppo

Citadel of Aleppo

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Citadel of Aleppo

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The Citadel of Aleppo (Arabic: قلعة حلب‎) is a large medieval fortified palace in the centre of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world.


Cite this article

Citadel of Aleppo. (n.d.). Retrieved on June 19, 2021, from

“Citadel of Aleppo” Madain Project,

“Citadel of Aleppo.” Madain Project, n.d.

Note: Always review your references and make any necessary corrections before using. Pay attention to names, capitalization, and dates.


Usage of the Citadel hill dates back at least to the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE. Occupied by many civilizations over time – including the Greeks, Byzantines, Ayyubids and Mamluks – the majority of the construction as it stands today is thought to originate from the Ayyubid period. An extensive conservation work took place in the 2000s by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in collaboration with Aleppo Archeological Society. Dominating the city, the Citadel is part of the Ancient City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986.

During the 2010s, the Citadel received significant damage during the lengthy Battle of Aleppo. It was reopened to the public in early 2017 with repairs to damaged parts underway.

Temple of Storm God Hadad
The Hadad Temple represents an exceptionally important archaeological discovery. By providing material evidence on Aleppo’s earliest known history it has allowed researchers to explore a previously unknown layer of the unique city, which was followed by continuous settlement in the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Zangid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.

Ayyubid Palace
Ddespite its modest proportions, it was formally and iconographically associated with a well-established iconography of power, an iconography that was first conceived in classical Islamic palaces and later perpetuated in the palaces of the Ayyubid and Artuqid dynasties.

Entrance Complex
The enormous stone bridge constructed by Sultan al-Zahir al-Ghazi over the moat led to an imposing bent entrance complex. Would-be assailants to the castle would have to take over six turns up a vaulted entrance ramp, over which were machicolations for pouring hot liquids on attackers from the mezzanine above. Secret passageways wind through the complex, and the main passages are decorated with figurative reliefs. The Ayyubid block is topped by the Mamluk "Throne Hall", a hall where Mamluk sultans entertained large audiences and held official functions.

Jami' al-Kabir
The Great Mosque of Aleppo Citadel was constructed in 1213-14 CE (610 Hj.) under the patronage of Ayyubid Sultan al-Malik al-Zahir Ghazi. Its situation at the highest point of the Citadel, with its towering minaret that is 21 meters high, extended both the citadels visibility and its defense to greater distances. Here the minaret begins to play a religious and military role this duality merges the virtues of power and piety in the icon of the Islamic faith.

Throne Hall
The magnificent throne hall was added on top of the twelfth-century fortified entrance complex, during the restoration of the citadel. The new throne hall was the grandest space in the citadel and it was used for official functions and for entertaining by the rulers of Aleppo and by Mamluk sultans visiting from Cairo. It was added following a sack of the citadel by the conqueror Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane, in 1400, when the Mamluk governors of Aleppo embarked on a large-scale reconstruction program.

Barbican Fortifications
In a building campaign that lasted from 1505-6 CE and then 1509-10 CE (911-915 Hj.), Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri constructed the lower tower (barbican) of the Entrance Complex and rebuilt two towers on the glacis: one on the south side, east of the Entrance Complex, and one on the north.


The recently discovered Temple of the Ancient Storm God, Hadad, dates use of the hill to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, as referenced in Cuneiform texts from Ebla and Mari. ΐ] The prophet Abraham is said to have milked his sheep on the citadel hill. Α] After the decline of the Neo-Hittite state centred in Aleppo, the Assyrians dominated the area (8-4th century BC), followed by the Neo-Babylonians and the Persians (539–333). Β]

Seleucid [ edit | edit source ]

After Aleppo was taken by the armies of Alexander the Great, Aleppo was ruled by Seleucus I Nicator, who undertook the revival of the city under the name Beroia. Medieval Arab historians say that the history of the citadel as a fortified acropolis began under Nikator. Α] In some areas of the citadel there are up to two meters of remains of Hellenistic settlement. A colonnaded street led up to the citadel hill from the west, where the south area of Aleppo still retains the Hellenistic grid street plan. Γ]

Roman and Byzantine [ edit | edit source ]

After the Romans deposed the Seleucid dynasty in 64 BC, the citadel hill continued to have religious significance. Emperor Julian, in his 363 AD visit to Aleppo noted "I stayed there for a day, visited the acropolis, offered a white bull to Zeus according to imperial customs, and held a short talk with the town council about worshipping the gods." Very few physical remains have been found from the Roman age in the Citadel. Β]

The Roman Empire was divided into two parts in 395. Aleppo was in the eastern half, Byzantium. During the clashes with the Sassanian king Khosrau II in the 7th century, the population of Aleppo is said to have taken refuge in the Citadel because the city wall was in a deplorable state. Currently, very few remains from the Byzantine period have been found on the Citadel Hill. The two mosques inside the Citadel are known to be converted from churches originally built by the Byzantines. Α] Β]

Early Islam dominations [ edit | edit source ]

Muslim troops captured Aleppo in 636 AD. Written sources document repairs being made on the citadel after a major earthquake. Little is known about the citadel in the period of early Islam, except that Aleppo was a frontier town on the edges of the Ummayad and Abbasid empires. Β]

Sayf al-Dawla, a Hamdanid prince, conquered the city in 944, and it subsequently rose to a political and economic renaissance. Β] Δ] The Hamdanids built a reputedly splendid palace on the banks of the river, but moved to the Citadel after Byzantine troops attacked in 962. A period of instability followed the Hamdanid rule, marked by Byzantine and Beduin attacks, a short-term rule by the Egyptian-based Fatimids. The Mirdasids were said to have converted the two churches into mosques. Β]

Zengid and Ayyubid [ edit | edit source ]

The citadel rose to the peak of its importance in the period during and after the Crusader presence in the Near East. Zengid ruler Imad ad-Din Zengi, followed by his son Nur ad-Din (ruled 1147–1174) successfully unified Aleppo and Damascus and held back the Crusaders from their repeated assaults on the cities. Several famous crusaders were imprisoned in the citadel, among them Count of Edessa, Joscelin II, who died there, Raynald of Châtillon, and the King of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, who was held for two years. In addition to his many works in both Aleppo and Damascus, Nur ad-Din rebuilt the Aleppo city walls and fortified the citadel. Arab sources report that he also made several other improvements, such as a high, brick-walled entrance ramp, a palace, and a racecourse likely covered with grass. Nur ad-Din additionally restored or rebuilt the two mosque and donated an elaborate wooden mihrab (prayer niche) to the Mosque of Abraham. The mihrab disappeared during the French Mandate. Ε]

Saladin's son al-Zahir al-Ghazi ruled Aleppo between 1193 and 1215. During this time the citadel went through major reconstruction, fortification and addition of new structures that create the complex of the Citadel in its current form today. Sultan Ghazi strengthened the walls, smoothed the surface of the outcrop and covered sections of the slope at the entrance area with stone cladding. The depth of the moat was increased, connected with water canals and spanned by a tall bridge-cum-viaduct, which today still serves as the entrance into the Citadel. During the first decade of the thirteenth century the citadel evolved into a palatial city that included functions ranging from residential (palaces and baths), religious (mosque and shrines), military installations (arsenal, training ground defence towers and the entrance block) and supporting elements (water cisterns and granaries). The most prominent renovation is the entrance block rebuilt in 1213. Sultan Ghazi also had the two mosques on the Citadel restored, and expanded the city walls to include the southern and eastern suburbs, making the citadel the centre of the fortifications, rather than alongside the wall. Ε]

Mongol and Mamluk [ edit | edit source ]

The citadel was damaged by the Mongol invasion of 1260 and again destroyed by the invasion led by the Transoxian leader Timur which swept through Aleppo in 1400–1401. Ε]

In 1415 the Mamluk governor of Aleppo, prince Sayf al-Din Jakam, was authorized to rebuild the citadel, which by then stood at the centre of a significant trading city of between 50–100,000 inhabitants. Ζ] Sayf al-Din's additions included two new advance towers on the north and south slopes of the citadel, and the new Mamluk palace built on top of the higher of the two entrance towers. The Ayyubid palace was almost completely abandoned during this period. The Mamluk period also administered restoration and preservation projects on the Citadel. The final Mamluk sultan, Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri, replaced the flat ceiling of the Throne Hall with 9 domes. Η]

Ottoman [ edit | edit source ]

During the Ottoman period, the military role of the citadel as a defense fortress slowly diminished as the city began to grow outside the city walls and was taking its form as a commercial metropolis. The Citadel was still used as a barracks for Ottoman soldiers, although it is not known exactly how many were stationed there. An anonymous Venetian traveler mentions some 2000 people living in the Citadel in 1556. In 1679, the French consul d’Arvieux reports 1400 people there, 350 of whom were Janissaries, the elite military corps in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Süleyman restored the citadel in 1521. Α] ⎖]

Aleppo and the citadel were heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1822. After the earthquake only soldiers lived in the citadel. Α] The Ottoman Governor of the time, Ibrahim Pasha, used stones from destroyed buildings in the citadel to build a barracks in the north of the crown. It was later restored under the rule of Sultan Abdülmecid in 1850–51. A windmill, also on the northern edge of the crown, was probably built around the same time. ⎖]

French Mandate [ edit | edit source ]

Soldiers continued to be stationed in the citadel during the French Mandate (1920–45). The French began archaeological excavations and extensive restoration work in the 1930s, particularly on the perimeter wall. The Mamluk Throne Hall was also completely restored during this time and given a new flat roof decorated in 19th-century Damascene style. A modern amphitheater was constructed on a section of an unexcavated surface of the citadel in 1980 to hold events and concerts. ⎗]

One of the oldest and largest castles with a long and complex history: The Citadel of Aleppo in Syria

The Citadel of Aleppo is a large medieval fortified palace in the center of the old city of Aleppo, northern Syria. It is the most famous historic architectural site in Syria built on top of a huge, partially artificial mound rising 50m above the city and surrounded by a trench. It is considered to be one of the oldest and largest castles in the world. It’s a densely layered microcosm of a long and complex history.

The inner gate of the citadel. Source

The citadel of Aleppo, Syria. Source

The majority of the construction, as it stands today, is thought to originate from the Ayyubids in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but substantial structures are also preserved from the Ottoman period beginning in the sixteenth century.

The main entrance of the Citadel. Source

In the Ayyubid period, Zengid ruler Imad as-Din Zengi, followed by his son Nur-ad-Din, successfully unified Aleppo and Damascus and held back the Crusaders from their repeated assaults on the cities. Then, in 1260, the citadel was damaged by the Mongol invasion led by the Transoxian leader Timur which swept through Aleppo in 1400-1401.

South side of the Citadel of Aleppo. Source

During this period, the military role of the citadel as a defense slowly diminished as the city began to grow outside the city walls and take its form as a commercial metropolis. During this era, which lasted for more than 400 years, Aleppo was the economic capital of the Empire and the volume of Aleppo trade multiplied several times in the first 25 years of the Ottoman period.

It was the commercial center linking Europe and the Far East. Source

In 1535, the Ottoman sultan signed an agreement with Francois the First, King of France, which increased and invigorated the French Community in Aleppo. In 1923, after the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations gave France a mandate to run Syria. The French began archaeological excavations and extensive restoration work, particularly on the perimeter wall.

Remains of Citadel of Aleppo. Source

The city was a good example of tolerance, free thinking, and multiple races and they were all equal under the same law. In the 1970s and 80s, tourism was revived and the citadel became one of Aleppo’s most popular destinations.

Visitors could sit in the open-air cafes below the walls and admire the towering gateways. Source

In August 2012, during the Battle of Aleppo of the Syrian civil war, the external gate of the citadel was damaged after being shelled during a clash between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Army to gain control over the citadel. In July 2015, a bomb was reportedly set off in a tunnel under one of the outer walls causing further damage to the citadel.

The continuous line of Battlements dominating the Glacis(ramp) and moat encircling the Citadel. Source

During the conflict, the Syrian Army used the Citadel as a military base, with the walls acting as cover while shelling surrounding areas and ancient arrow slits in walls being used by snipers to target rebels. As a result of this contemporary usage, the Citadel has received significant damage.

By FSTC Published on: 13th January 2007

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The Citadel of Aleppo is one of the oldest monuments in the world. It is the most famous historic architectural site in Syria and is built on top of a huge, partially artificial mound rising 50m above the city and surrounded by a trench. This article describes its internal and external structure and full features including its history.

Figure 1. The entrance gate of Aleppo Citadel. (© Murat Özyildirim)


Since its inception, the Citadel has been named after the city of Aleppo. Evidence from an archaeological excavation in Al-Qaramel Hill, a suburb of Aleppo, reveals the existence of circular residential houses that go back to the tenth millennium BCE and carvings in rocks (cave houses) and excavations around Aleppo confirm that it is the oldest city in the world that is still inhabited. Aleppo has been damaged as a result of wars, invasions, earthquakes and epidemic plagues, but the city has continued to rise from the ruins and survive.

The city of Aleppo was mentioned in the tablets of Mari dating to 2850 BCE It was destroyed by Rimoch the Acadian in the middle of the third millennium BCE and by the Hittites in the early part of the second millennium BCE Aleppo has been conquered by Mitannians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians. Since 330 BCE Aleppo was a part of the Hellenic Circle and was known as ‘Bereoa’.

Aristotle, the philosopher, who accompanied Alexander the Great’s army, enjoyed Aleppo’s good climate and clean atmosphere. He chose the city to live in while recuperating from his illness. When Seleucus Nicator rebuilt the city in 312 BCE, he renovated the Citadel and used it as a military garrison. He constructed a straight street, which still exists today, between Al-Zarb Market in the east to Antioch Gate in the west and branching into 39 covered Souks (markets).

In 64 BCE Pompey initiated a relationship between Aleppo and Europe, and it continued to flourish during the Roman Era. Due to its strategic location, Aleppo became an important religious and economic centre. In the Byzantine Era, Aleppo was a great Christian centre. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, built the great cathedral which was converted into a school and mosque in 1124 C.E. during the Crusader siege in Aleppo. The cathedral is now the Al-Halaweih school.

From 636 C.E. onwards, Aleppo was under the rules of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Seljuks, Zankis, Ayyubids, Mamlouks and Ottomans. Through these Eras, Aleppo continued to be an economic centre linking continents and oceans in the trade of silk, spices, textiles and perfumes. Many elements helped to create Aleppo’s uniqueness, some of which are:

1- Good fertility of agricultural land

2- Limestone that provided strength and durability of buildings

3- Strategic location and the ease of movement to the east and west

4- Good connection with Anatolia and the Arab Peninsula

5- Cultural and demographic variations of the city during its long history

6- Being the commercial centre linking Europe and the Far East

Notwithstanding, the political differences between Europe and the successive Islamic states, Aleppo remained the main centre for international trade. Despite the ferocity of the Crusader wars, Aleppo signed a commercial agreement in 1207 C.E. with the State of Venice under the rule of Al Zaher Ghazi Al-Ayyubid. This was the first economic agreement between Europe and the Eastern Arab World. The agreement was renewed during the Mamlouk Era to include the rest of the Italian cities, Portugal, Spain, etc.

During the Ottoman era, which lasted for more than 400 years, Aleppo was the economic capital of the Empire which extended from the Danube in the west to Iraq in the east and over North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Some historians stated that goods which took three months to be sold in Cairo were sold in just one day in Aleppo. In 1535, the Ottoman Sultan signed an agreement with Francois the First, King of France, which increased and invigorated the French Community in Aleppo.

The volume of Aleppo trade multiplied several times in the first 25 years of the Ottoman period. The markets and inns expanded, and the number of consulates, foreign communities, and European and international trade delegations increased. The French Consul in Aleppo in 1680, Darviyo, indicated that there were 75 consulates and commercial attaches in the city at that time. Aleppo had a population of 300,000 people representing diverse sectors and races. Aleppo suffered a great blow with the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869. The Canal moved the trade from the roads to the sea and, as a result, Aleppo lost 93% of its trade movement.

Figure 2. A general view of the Aleppo Citadel (Source).

Since the Thirteenth Century, Aleppo has received Franciscan, Caboushite, Carmelite and Jesuit missionaries. There are hundreds of memoirs and writings on Aleppo by various voyagers, consuls, and European traders who visited or lived in the city. The most famous of these are:

Lamartine, Bardwill, Foster, Masson, Le Mans, De Rauwaiff, D’Arvieux, Volney, Dondolo, Rampels, John David, Lawrence, and Gernrodebl.

The city was a good example of tolerance, free thinking and multiple races. There are many churches and 11 Christian sectors, living side by side with Muslims and enjoying freedom, tolerance and mutual understanding. All are equal under the same law.

Aleppo has been described by labels as varied as “Asian Athens”, “Small London”, “Small Paris”, “Cleanest and most beautiful city in the Ottoman Empire”, “Aleppo supercedes Cairo”, Aleppo, “the Citadel of the Levant”, the “Aleppians are the best people in the Ottoman Empire”.

Aleppo and The Citadel:

The history of the Citadel is intertwined with that of Aleppo. Excavations in the Citadel unearthed flint stones dating back to the seventh millennium B.C. in a temple of the old goddess of Aleppo, indicating that the Citadel was both the Acropolis of the city and its worship place. The excavations are continuing to disclose magnificent facts about the history of the Citadel and the city of Aleppo.

As the Acropolis of Aleppo, the Citadel contained the temples of the gods of the Aleppine sacred trinity, Hodod, for lightning and thunderstorms, Shamsh, for the sun as symbol for justice, and Sin, for the crescent as symbol for time, as well as other gods such as Doujon, the god of fertility. The names of these gods were changed with the successive governing authorities of Amorites, Hittites, Mitannians, Greeks and Romans. During the Byzantine period, the Citadel became a place of Christian worship, and the Byzantines built two churches. Mosques were built during the Islamic period.

History informs us that Seleucus Nicator, the great successor of Alexander, was the first to use the Citadel’s military fortifications for defence and that he used it as his military abode. However, the Romans and the Byzantines used it as the official residence for the city’s governors, and two new churches were built during the Byzantine Era.

The Muslim Arabs entered the city of Aleppo peacefully on 16 AH/637 C.E. They did not, however, use the Citadel as a residential area for the governors since they built palaces for themselves outside the city, such as Al-Naoura Palace, built by Mouslemeh bin Abdul-Malek the Hader Al-Sulimany Palace, built by Souleiman bin Abdul-Malek and the Batyas Palace, built by the Abbasid, Saleh bin Ali.

Since the Era of Seif Al-Dawla Al-Hamadani, the Citadel was used as a fortified military centre against the Byzantine aggression. After Nacfor Focas destroyed the Al-Halaba Palace outside the Antioch Gate on 351 Hijra, 962 CE, Saad Al-Doula used the Citadel as his headquarters. The Citadel was recognized as a residence of political authority during the Bani Mardas period during 414 – 472 AH/1023 – 1079 CE and thus great care was taken with the construction, fortification and decoration of the Citadel.

During the period of the Zankis, Nour Al-Din renovated the Citadel and built its enclosure and a mosque, which still exists. He also constructed a prison for the captives of war of his Western enemies. A number of Crusader princes such as the King of Jerusalem, and De Caption, the Prince of Antioch, were imprisoned there.

The Citadel reached its peak of glory during the period of Al-Zaher Ghazi, who ruled Aleppo for thirty years, and constructed many distinguished buildings. The Era of Al Zaher, son of Salah Al Din Al-Ayyoubi, is considered the “Golden Age” of the Aleppo Citadel. The current shape of the Citadel dates back to his time. Al-Zaher constructed 26 buildings to serve as palaces, mosques, hamamat (baths), water cisterns, towers, buildings and storehouses. He dug the Moat surrounding the Citadel and paved its walls with stones. Al-Zaher also built a palace Dar Al-Izz (House of Glory), which is considered a masterpiece of architecture. Al-Zaher Ghazi married Queen Diafa Khatoun in the Citadel, and it is believed that she played a major role in renovating the Citadel. During the time of Al-Zaher Ghazi, the Citadel became a full Royal residence with a fortified military building, as well as a self-sufficient city within the city of Aleppo.

Figure 3. Inside of the Aleppo Citadel (Source).

In 658 Hijra/1260 C.E., and after the collapse of Baghdad, Hulagu surrounded Aleppo city, and Aleppo was occupied according to the Reconciliation Agreement reached. However, Hulagu did not respect this agreement and, along with the Armenian King (Sis), destroyed both the city of Aleppo and the Citadel and killed the guards of the Citadel. After the defeat of the Tatars in Ain Jalout battle, they left Aleppo, but returned one year later and destroyed what have been reconstructed. However, Baibars, qalawun and Al-Ashraf Khalil, each renovated some of the buildings in the Citadel, but it has never been the same as it was during its glorious period. In 1400 C.E., Tamerlane also conquered the Citadel and destroyed it along with the city of Aleppo. As a result of this attack, some residents of Aleppo escaped the city, but most of those remaining were killed.

The Mamluk governor of Aleppo city (Jokoum) made significant efforts in rebuilding the ruined part of the Citadel and renovated its Moat to maintain its Ayyubid style. He also built two towers in the North and South sides and started building the Royal Hall (Kait Al-Arsh) which was completed by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Mouaed Sheikh. The Sultan Kaitbaye rebuilt the ceiling of the Royal Hall, and the Sultan Kansoua Al-Ghouri completed the job, adding to it a marvellous nine domes. He also used the Citadel as the strategic place for his great battle with the Sultan Salim Al-Othmani.

When the Mamluks were defeated in the Marj Dabek battle in 1516, Aleppo and its Citadel became part of the Ottoman Province (Welayat) and the Citadel lost its military importance. The Ottoman governors used it periodically, though they lived in other palaces most of the time. The 1822 earthquake destroyed major parts of the Citadel and Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt seriously damaged the Citadel when he took out the pavement stones of the Citadel Moat to build a military barracks inside the fortress.

During the French Occupation, a defence brigade was stationed in the Citadel. In the early second decade of the last century, the French Colonel Wigan stole the Mouhrab, the magnificent wooden apse, from the Ibrahim Al-Khalil mosque in the Citadel, and transported it to France, where it remains today. This robbery is the reason that the Adiyat Society was established in 1924, by an initiative from Sheik Kamel Al-Ghazi, calling for the protection of antiquities and legacy.

The history of the Citadel shows that it was the most effective military fortification in Islamic history. No conqueror was able to enter it by force and it was only through reconciliation agreements that they were able to do so. Some conquerors such as Nekfor Focas, Hulagu, and Tamerlane violated these agreements and ruined the Citadel.

II. External Structure and Features:

The Citadel has an oval shape, surrounded by a Moat. It is 550 m long and 350 m wide at the bottom. The Acropolis on top is 38 m. The Moat is 30 m wide and 22m deep (it is less deep now because of the accumulation of soil in it). The most prominent features of the Citadel are:

It was filled with water in times of siege to form a defensive barrier against attackers. Those who ruled the city and the Citadel were anxious to take care of the Moat by deepening it, fortifying its fragile points, and paving its ground with large stones.

The Moat has steep ridges with many sections covered by large rectangular stones of 100 x 40 cm. Most of these stones go back to the Era of Ghazi Al-Ayyubid. Other parts of the Moat were rocky by nature.

It is known that the Citadel was built on a natural hill, where buildings were constructed to form a long-lasting mixture of natural hill crowned with man-made buildings. The steep ridges and smooth tiles of the Moat hindered the attack of invaders.

B. The Main Entrance:

It is connected to the external gate by an eight-arch bridge. The bottom of the bridge goes back to the Era of Al-Zaher Ghazi and the top goes back to the Mamluk period. The side gate was built to prevent enemies from forcing their way in using a battering ram. On the door are engraved snakes as well as the names of Qalawun and Al-Ashraf Khalil.

C. The Third Gate:

This is found in the Tower representing the Main Entrance, on which two lions are carved with a date palm tree in between. At the end of the entrance, there is a fourth door called the door of the “Laughing and Crying Lions”. This goes back to the Era of Al-Zaher Ghazi Al-Ayyubid. In the area among all these doors are rooms and apertures that were used for defence by throwing boiling liquids and stones on attackers. The shrine of Al-Kheder (St George) is close to the last door.

D. The Main Gorge:

The destruction caused by earthquakes and wars are clearly visible right after passing the defensive gates. On the right hand side, a staircase can be seen leading to a well called “Al-Satour” (the Ax). The Ayyubid Royal Palace comes next, followed by the prison which was previously a water cistern. Beside the prison lie the remains of a Hittite temple of the 10 century B.C., in which lies a basalt stone representing the Aleppine trinity (Hadad, Shamsh, and Sin). Excavations are currently underway in this site.

To the left of the passage, there is a Hammam (Bath) and the Ibrahim Al-Khalil mosque, from which the wooden Mihrab (Apse) was stolen and the writings related to the period of Nour Al-Din Al-Zanki. At the top left side is the great mosque, which was built by Al-Zaher Ghazi, with its square shape Ayyubid Minaret overlooking the city of Aleppo.

E. The Barracks of Ibrahim Pasha:

Located to south-east of the Citadel, the barracks of Ibrahim Pasha, built in 1934, is currently used as a Museum of Antiquities in the Citadel. Next to this is a canal with 225 stairs that are linked to three outlets from the Citadel. A nearby tunnel leads to a large chamber which was used to store grain during the Islamic ages and which might also have been used as a water cistern during the Byzantine Era.

F. The Royal Palace and Hammam:

Sources indicate that the Palace was built during the period of Al-Malek Al-Aziz Mohamed, the son of Al-Zaher Ghazi. Today, all that remains of the Palace are traces of rooms, a yard, beautiful arches and niches. Behind and to the east of the Palace is the Hammam, or Bath, dating back to the period of Yousuf, the second son of Al-Aziz Mohamed. The floor of the Hammam is paved with black and white stones, and it has raised seats for resting, washing chambers, and extended hot-and-cold water pipes. The Hammam has been restored and is fully functional today.

G. The Royal Hall:

This was built over the main entrance of the Citadel, and the Hall overlooks the tomb of Al-Zaher Ghazi Al-Ayyubid that lies in the Al-Madrasa Al-Soultanieh school. The Hall is almost a square (26.5 x 23.5m). Its entrance has beautiful ornaments and yellow, black and white stone carvings. Jakam Saif Al-Din, the Mamluk, started to build the Royal Hall, and Al- Mouad Sheik completed it. The Hall was restored by Katbai, and Sultan Kansoh A1-Ghori renovated the nine-domed ceiling.

The Royal Hall is currently under restoration and its ceiling domes have been demolished and replaced with a straight level ceiling to maintain the style of the famous Aleppine houses. There are small windows in the Hall that were designed to shoot arrows and pour burning oil on enemies. One of the Hall corners has a door leading to a secret passage into the defence Hall in the Main Entrance. The frontage of the Hall has a large window on which the following words are inscribed: “Enter in Peace and Safety”.

H. The Northern and Southern Towers:

These towers were built by Prince Seif Al-Din Jakam and renovated by Sultan Kanso Al-Ghori. It appears that they were once linked through secret tunnels to the main edifice of the Citadel and to the House of Justice that faces the Citadel.

III. Remaining Writings:

There are over forty Arabic writings in the Hall. The oldest was done in the Mardas period and bears the name Mahmoud, son of Nasr, the son of Saleh the Mardas, 465 AH/1073C.E.

There are writings from the period of Nour El-Din Al-Zanki and many others from the period of Ayyubid Al-Zaher Ghazi and his son Al-Aziz Mohamed. There are also Mamluk writings bearing the names of Hakam, Barkouk, Al-Mouayed Sheik, Katbai, and Kanso Al-Ghouri.

There is only one Ottoman writing from the period of Soulaiman Al-Kanoni 928 A.H./1521 C.E.

IV. Remarkable Sayings about Aleppo:

Many great travellers have visited the Aleppo Citadel during successive ages, and many poems were written about it. Here are examples of what have been written about the Citadel:

• Al-Khalidi, the poet Saif Al-Dawla said:

“A magnificent being, and unconquerable With its high controlling watch and unscaleable sides The atmosphere sprays thin clouds on it And wears it as a necklace with shining stars It appears through lightning As a virgin between clouds”

• Ibn Al-Zaki, congratulated Salah Al-Din for conquering the Citadel by saying:

“Opening Aleppo Citadel in the month of Safar by you is a good omen for opening Jerusalem in the month of Rajab”

• Having visited Aleppo, the great traveller Ibn Jouber said:

“It has a Citadel famous for hindering attackers and for its outstanding height. It is similar to no other fortress. It is immune to Conquest”.

• Ibn Battuta visited Aleppo during his voyage and described the Citadel:

“Inside the Citadel of Aleppo there are two water wells, Thus no fear of parching with thirst. It is surrounded with a protecting wall and a great moat with a spring of water The wall is crowned with high towers close to each other with wall openings. Each tower is inhabited and the food remained unchanged in this Citadel for a long time. “

• Al-Bîrûnî considered the Citadel as one of the three wonders of the world and Yakout A1-Hamawi has greatly admired it in his book “The Dictionary of Countries.”

• Other great foreign travellers and visitors who described the Citadel include:

Darvio, the Consul of France in Aleppo (1679-1686), Bokok, English, Rosso, French, Russell brothers, English, Super Nheim, Huzer Flid, Van Barshem, Sovagieh and Beiwadi Rotro.

• In the recent age, the Citadel has been praised by many poets, among them the poet Abdullah Yourki Hallak, who said:

“While Time gets old, the Citadel ofAleppo Remains young Sitting up the hill puzzling the strongest conqueror One day Time was asked who you are proud of Al Shahba (one of Aleppo names) Time proudly replied”.

1. Muhammad Ragib b. Mahmûd b. Hashim al-Halabi Ragib at-Tabbakh. I’lam an-nubala bi-târihi Halab ash-Shahba. (The Famous Nobles in the History of Aleppo) 2nd ed. Aleppo: al-Matbaat al-Ilmiyye, 1923.

2. Al Ghazi, The History of Aleppo Al-Ghazzi, The River of Gold in the History of Aleppo” – printed in 1342.

3. Soubhi Saouaf. Aleppo past and present: its history, its citadel, its museum and its antique monuments. English edition [translated from the French] by George F. Miller. 1958.

4. Charles-Dominique, P., Voyageurs arabes, Ibn Fadlan, Ibn Jubayr, Ibn Battuta et un auteur anonyme, Gallimard, 1995.

5. A. Russell. The natural history of Aleppo: containing a description of the city, and the principal natural productions in its neighbourhood. 2nd ed./ revised, enlarged, and illustrated with notes by P. Russell. Farnborough, Hants: Gregg, 1969.

6. Sha’ath, Shawqi. Qal’at Halab. (The Citadel of Aleppo). Aleppo.

7. Sauvaget, Jean. Alep. Essai sur le développement d’une grande ville syrienne des origins au milieu du XIXe siècle, Paris 1941.

8. Ibn Al-Shahneh, Selected Pearls of Aleppo Kingdom. Les perles choises (Matériaux pour server à l’histoire de la ville d’alep, I.), Transl. by Jean Sauvaget, Beirut 1933 (Memoires de l’Institut Francais de Damas).

Modern day

The Citadel in its present form today, is situated on a mound which has an elliptical base with a length of 450 metres (1,480 feet) and width of 325 metres (1,066 feet). At the top this ellipse measures 285 metres (935 feet) by 160 metres (520 feet) with the height of this slanting foundation measuring 50 metres (160 feet). In the past, the entire mound was covered with large blocks of gleaming limestone, some of which still remain today. [16]

The mound is surrounded by a 22 metres (72 feet) deep and 30 metres (98 feet) wide moat, dating from the 12th century. Notable is the fortified gateway, accessible though an arched bridge. This feature was an addition from the Mamluk government in the 16th century. A succession of five right-angle turns and three large gates (with carved figures) leads to the main inner castle entrance. [16] Particularly interesting in the interior are the Weapons' Hall, the Byzantine Hall and the Throne Hall, with a restored decorated ceiling. Prior to the Syrian civil war, the citadel was a tourist attraction and a site of archaeological digs and studies. The amphitheater was often used for musical concerts or cultural events. [16]

Syrian civil war

In August 2012, during the Battle of Aleppo of the Syrian civil war, the external gate of the citadel was damaged after being shelled during a clash between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Army to gain control over the citadel. [17] In July 2015, a bomb was reportedly set off in a tunnel under one of the outer walls causing further damage to the citadel. [18]

During the conflict, the Syrian Army used the Citadel as a military base, with the walls acting as cover while shelling surrounding areas and ancient arrow slits in walls being used by snipers to target rebels. [19] As a result of this contemporary usage, the Citadel has received significant damage. [2] [3]

Citadel of Aleppo

The citadel of Aleppo, whose purpose was military, is characteristic of Medieval Islamic military architecture, which was found especially in Syria at the time of the Crusades. It also housed the seat of political power. Oval in shape, it is particularly imposing with its fortifications punctuated by defensive towers, the single gate and its semi-artificial mound which was once paved all over. It is naturally in a prominent position, on a hill which has served as a strategic position for millennia [1] .

The first period of construction was in the tenth century [2] , but the current appearance of the citadel dates for the most part from the construction that took place at the time of the Crusades, from the 12th century onwards. Indeed, during this troubled period, the struggle between the Latin States settled in the Levant and Islamic forces represented in the region by the Zangids and then the Ayyubids, sizeable construction and renovation programmes were undertaken. For this reason numerous fortifications were built or substantially renovated (Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo and Bosra). There is a difference between the citadels with a purely defensive role, sited on hill-tops or river banks, and the urban citadels, which also housed the seat of power.

The reconstruction of the early fortress dates from Nûr al-Dîn&rsquos campaign, and it was then that the tomb associated with the prophet Abraham, Maqâm Ibrâhîm, was built within the walls of the citadel.

It was during the reign of al-Malik al-Zâhir Ghâzî, Saladin&rsquos son, that the largest works were completed. From the defensive and military point of view, the deep moats were enlarged and the steep stone glacis (slanting stone foundations at the base of the walls) reputed to be unassailable, were reinforced by sections of ancient column shafts [3] put in to place on the hillside. This technique, which was characteristic of Northern Syria, was also used at Bosra and for the walls of Cairo [4] . The walls and the towers were strengthened, enlarged and rebuilt in line with the new military requirements: ramparts, arrow slits, battlements and machicolations (&lsquomurder holes&rsquo). In 1213 the construction of the sole and immense gatehouse of the citadel was ordered, protected by a projecting tower and a bridge with eight arches. The gatehouse is decorated with epigraphic bands, rosettes and frames in ablaq (alternating course of light and dark masonry) the first gate has two interlaced dragons which is a recurrent theme from the start of the Seljuk period, which spread from Iran to Iraq and Anatolia [5] . The interior of the citadel was accessible by a ramp with a bend in it and two gates decorated with lions and flanked by a lookout post. This type of arrangement, like the principle of the glacis, or slanting stone foundations mentioned above, certainly influenced the contemporary military architecture at the time of the Crusades.

The citadel encloses within its walls the royal residence of the Ayyubids, together with other buildings destined for the exercise of political power. They were probably built here for both reasons of security and also in the desire to legitimise and confirm the political authority of the leaders who were of Kurdish origin and who ruled over the Arab population. Dating from the reign of al-Malik al-Zâhir, the royal palace, whose architecture is laid out in a manner characteristic of Syrian Islamic Medieval palaces, possesses a gate with muqarnas (small pointed niches, stacked in tiers projecting beyond those below) and a tripartite façade on to the courtyard.

In 1214, the Great Mosque was rebuilt with a minaret of 21 metres, which probably also served as a watchtower. The House of Justice (Dar al-&lsquoAdl), opposite the citadel, also dates back to this period. There were underground passages which led directly to the town.

[1]The site contains the vestiges of a Hittite temple from the first millennium BC.

[2] To be exact, at the Hamdanid period, under the command of Sayf al-Dawla.

The Ancient City of Aleppo

The Ancient City of Aleppo lies in the heart of the modern city , a district within the ancient walls. The area has many quarters inhabited by people belonging to different religions and ethnicities, each district socially and economically independent. It is a massive area, covering 350 acres and is home to over 100,000 inhabitants – at least it was before the war.

The area is noteworthy for its many narrow alleys , markets, mansions, travelers’ lodges, as well as religious buildings that are important to both Muslims and Jews .

The Great Mosque of Aleppo ( Grzegorz Japol / Adobe Stock)

This city was founded during the Bronze Age and the Ancient City remained largely untouched since the Middle Ages . That was, of course, until the Battle of Aleppo in 2012, which resulted in many sections of the ancient city being destroyed or burnt. In 2014, a series of major historic buildings were further damaged as a result of fighting between the Syrian Arab Army and the rebel forces of Jabhat al-Nusra.

Temple of Hadad (Aleppo Citadel)

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The Temple of Hadad, is a monumental temple dedicated to the Semitic weather god Haddad situated inside the Aleppo Citadel. The initial foundation date of this temple is not known but cuneiform texts found in the ruins of the ancient city of Ebla mention a place called "Khalab" (directly related to the Arabic name for Aleppo, Halab) that had a temple dedicated to this god atop a wooded mound, suggesting that it was functional in the mid third millennium BCE.


Cite this article

Temple of Hadad (Aleppo Citadel) (n.d.). Retrieved on June 19, 2021, from

“Temple of Hadad (Aleppo Citadel)” Madain Project,

“Temple of Hadad (Aleppo Citadel).” Madain Project, n.d.

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The temple remained in use until the first millennium BCE and was renovated several times. Namely, after destruction by fire, the temple was rebuilt around 1100 BCE as indicated by the iconography and inscriptions on a series of stone relief panels. A second major renovation dated to circa 900 BCE is evidenced by the rebuilding of the northern wall and a series of carved reliefs that formed the base of a platform some meters south of the new northern wall.

The plan of the temple has not been fully exposed through excavations. As it existed in the late 2nd/early 1st century BCE, it included an entryway flanked by two long rooms leading onto a large rectangular cella measuring 17 x 26 m with a niche on the northern side.

The Temple of the Storm God represents an exceptionally important archaeological discovery. By providing material evidence on Aleppo’s earliest known history it has allowed researchers to explore a previously unknown layer of the unique city, which was followed by continuous settlement in the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Zangid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.

Aleppo: a cosmopolitan city built on thousands of years of trade

What was so special about Aleppo, sitting on a bleak and dusty plain with no river, oasis, port or sheltering mountains, that led it to become Syria’s most populous city, a major urban centre continuously settled since the early bronze age?

The answer lies in its geopolitical location, the same reason it has been so fiercely contested in Syria’s ongoing brutal war. Whoever controls Aleppo controls the north of the country. The capital, Damascus, its historical rival, controls the south.

Situated midway between the Mediterranean port of biblical Antioch (modern Antakya in Turkey) and the Euphrates river, ancient Aleppo was built on trade and its citizens have always been merchants first and foremost. Their commercial skill was legendary, spawning proverbs such as “What was sold in the souks of Cairo in a month was sold in Aleppo in a day.”

The result was to produce a highly cosmopolitan city, multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, with a blend of Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Turkmen, Persians, Circassians, Jews, Armenians and Europeans. Many were refugees, of various Christian and Muslim denominations, fleeing persecution in their homelands. Aleppo absorbed them all, adding them to its rich and colourful tapestry.

As late as the 12th century, half of Aleppo’s population was Christian. The city’s masters at that time were Seljuks, a Turkic group who had entered from Iran, then become Sunni Muslims. Their architecture embodied this mix, but its sole remaining representative, the 1,000-year old minaret rising from Aleppo’s Great Mosque, was felled in crossfire in 2013.

It represented a unique synthesis of Persian, Arab and Turkic styles interwoven with classical pilasters and capitals, Islamic inscriptions and friezes.

In 2012, when the war reached Aleppo, the city’s population was more than 70% Sunni Muslim, with 30% Christian and other minorities. The demography may be about to change further, as it is doing all over Syria.

Much of Aleppo’s history may be read in its architecture. Crusader fragments such as the Cathedral of St Helena, converted to an Islamic theological school, still stand alongside the famous stone-vaulted Mamluk souks. This snake-like labyrinth of shops lent itself perfectly to rebel hideouts which were then shelled by government forces in September 2012, causing a massive fire that ended up leaving 40,000 traders bankrupt overnight.

It is one of the many ironies of the current war that since 2012 the citadel, historic protector of the city, has served as a military stronghold from which Assad government artillery has rained down on to its own cultural heritage, destroying its souks and historical monuments.

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