Pictures of splendors past: Aleppo before the war

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Aleppo before the war
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Aleppo before the war
A general view shows the Old City of Aleppo as seen from Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A general view shows AleppoÃs legendary Baron Hotel, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A vendor sits inside an antique shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
BASILICA OF SAINT SIMEON, ALEPPO, SYRIA - 2010/03/25: Tourists at the ruins at the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, built in the the 5th century AD and the oldest surviving Byzantine church, near Aleppo, Syria. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A man crosses a street in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A view shows an ornate entrance to Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Costa Coffee and Second Cup coffee branches are seen inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Khan al-Shounah market, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People stand inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Christmas ornaments decorate a balcony in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past a shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk inside the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Tourists vist the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk in the Town Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A church is pictured in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man walks past shops in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A man stands outside an antiques shop in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows a Mashrabiya in al-Jdeideh neighbourhood, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Asia
A view shows the entrance of the Shahba Mall in Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Customers, covered in towels, rest after taking a bath at the historical Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Visitors tour Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk near Aleppo's Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower, Syria October 6, 2010. Picture taken October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People tour inside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People walk along a street near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2009. Picture taken December 12, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
People are seen outside Aleppo's historic citadel, Syria December 11, 2009. Picture taken December 11, 2009. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Local people approaching steps into Aleppo citadel in Syria.
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A millennium-old minaret towering above Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, an imposing citadel overlooking the old city center, a medieval covered market and a 21st century shopping mall.

Before Syria's ruinous civil war struck Aleppo, the country's largest city was a busy commercial powerhouse and a proud historic center - its long heritage on display in ancient landmarks still used by modern day traders, travelers or worshippers.

But the war that erupted across Syria in 2011 exploded into Aleppo in the summer of 2012, when rebel fighters took over the east of the city.

The rebels hoped their march into Aleppo marked the beginning of the end for President Bashar al-Assad, while the government in Damascus pledged to swiftly drive them out.

Neither side achieved those goals, and the war in Aleppo dragged on more than four years. As the fighting ground on, Aleppo became the biggest prize of the civil war, even as the city itself crumbled under air strikes from government forces and bombardment by both sides.

Sections of the medieval souq, or market, have been ruined or burnt down, and the 11th century minaret at the Umayyad mosque was destroyed three years ago.

Modern structures have also suffered. The Shahba shopping mall on the outskirts of the city has closed - taken over by various insurgent groups during different phases of the fighting around Aleppo.

The Baron Hotel, whose guest list included Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey; British colonial officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia; and King Faisal of Syria and Iraq, found itself abandoned on the front line.

Now the Syrian army, backed by Assad's Russian and Iranian allies, is poised to recapture the city after taking back all but a pocket of rebel territory in the east.

For the government, victory is in sight. But Aleppo is changed. Much is in ruins, and much has been lost - surviving only in pictures and memories.

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