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Aleppo vies with Damascus for the title of the world’s oldest continually inhabited city. In fact, a handful of other Middle Eastern towns make this claim too, but texts from the ancient kingdom of Mari on the Euphrates River indicate that Aleppo was already the centre of a powerful state as long ago as the 18th century BC, and the site may have been continuously inhabited for the past 8000 years. Its pre-eminent role in Syria came to an end with the Hittite invasions of the 17th and 16th centuries BC, and the city appears to have fallen into obscurity thereafter.

During the reign of the Seleucids, who arrived in the wake of Alexander the Great’s campaign, Aleppo was given the name Beroia, and with the fall of Palmyra to the Romans became the major commercial link between the Mediterranean and Asia. The town was destroyed by the Persians in AD 611 and fell easily to the Muslims during their invasion in 637. The Byzantines overwhelmed the town in 961 and again in 968 but they could not take the Citadel.

Three disastrous earthquakes also shook the town in the 10th century and Nureddin (Nur ad-Din) subsequently rebuilt the town and fortress. In 1124 the Crusaders under Baldwin laid siege to the town.

After raids by the Mongols in 1260 and 1401, in which Aleppo was all but emptied of its population, the city finally came into the Ottoman Turkish orbit in 1516. It prospered greatly until an earthquake in 1822 killed over 60% of the inhabitants and wrecked many buildings, including the Citadel.

As long as four centuries ago European merchants – particularly French, English and those of the various city-states of Italy – had established themselves here. However, the flood of cheap goods from Europe in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, and the increasing use of alternative trading routes, slowly killed off a lot of Aleppo’s trade and manufacturing. Today the major local industries are silk-weaving and cotton-printing. Products from the surrounding area include wool, hides, dried fruits and, particularly, pistachios, for which Aleppo is justly famous.