After the battle, Aleppo shows its scars

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Syria's scars of war
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Syria's scars of war
Visitors walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria October 6, 2010. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men walk near damage inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on October 6, 2010 (top) and after it was damaged (bottom) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (top)/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Damage is seen inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on March 12, 2009 (top) and after it was damaged (bottom) December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Shahba Mall, one of the largest commercial shopping centres in Syria, before it was damaged on December 12, 2009 (L) and after it was damaged (R) on October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (L)/Abdalrhman Ismail SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A woman carries an umbrella in al-Sheebani school, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria May 14, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows damage in al-Sheebani school building, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows al-Sheebani school's building, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on May 14, 2008 (top) and after it was damaged (bottom) December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A damaged chandelier lies on the ground at Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Hamam El Nahasin, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on October 6, 2010 (top) and after it was damaged December 17, 2016. REUTERS/(Top)Khalil Ashawi/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People attend a music concert in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows damage in al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows al-Sheebani school's courtyard, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on June 6, 2009 (top) and after it was damaged December 17, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows damage on the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2008 (top) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
People walk inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men walk near damage inside Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's Umayyad mosque, Syria, before it was damaged on March 12, 2009 (top) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows the Old City of Aleppo, Syria November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A general view shows damage in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows the Old City of Aleppo, Syria on November 24, 2008 (top) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A combination picture shows Aleppo's historic citadel, in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria before it was damaged on August 9, 2010 (top) and after it was damaged December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Sandra Auger (top)/Omar Sanadiki SEARCH "ALEPPO HERITAGE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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ALEPPO, Syria, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Before the war, Aleppo's ancient walled citadel drew in armies of visitors to one of the Middle East's greatest treasures.

But for the past four years the Citadel's high stone ramparts have been on the front line of fighting pitting the Syrian army and its allies against rebels who occupied much of the Old City surrounding the fortress.

Sudden advances by the army led to a ceasefire last week and evacuation of insurgents and many civilians, ending the warfare in Aleppo and putting the city entirely into government hands.

SEE ALSO: Video of children in Aleppo causes Turkish presenters to break down

Reuters photographs from before and after the fighting reveal how the city has been scarred by years of air strikes, shelling, street fighting, fires and neglect.

The fate of Aleppo, listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, has been the subject of great anxiety for city residents, archaeologists, historians and travelers, even as they despair for the human suffering caused by the fighting.

"We are now exactly in front of the Citadel's entrance. These streets are very familiar. My school was nearby. Now, only part of it is left," said Abdel Rahman Berry, a lawyer. "It was ruined. They ravaged our childhood memories," he added.

Large sections of Aleppo's Islamic-era covered market or souk, one of the most extensive in the world, were destroyed in clashes in 2012 and 2013, and the 11th century minaret of the Umayyad mosque was brought down by shelling.

During a visit to the Old City and inside the Umayyad mosque with the Syrian army, reporters were shown rubble-strewn streets and scorched walls that were once part of the souk, pocked with bullet holes and daubed with slogans.

The Umayyad mosque was also scarred by the fighting, and the remains of its ancient stone minaret lay in a heap in one corner where it had collapsed after suffering a direct hit, but despite damage, its elegant floor and arcaded walls remained.

29 PHOTOS
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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"THE EYE AND ITS PUPIL"

While the city, one of the oldest continuously habited in the world, was split into warring government and rebel sectors, the army retained control of the citadel even when it was surrounded by insurgents on three sides and could only be accessed by a tunnel.

"There were around 25 of us protecting the citadel. We used to switch with armed men who were stationed in the old market through a tunnel that was dug underneath," said a Syrian soldier from the Citadel's garrison.

Despite that exposed position, and repeated attempts by rebels to capture it, the damage to the Citadel, with its towering gatehouse and sloping arched bridge, was not as bad as elsewhere in the Old City. Government snipers fired at rebels through arrow slits in walls.

"There is some damage but it can be managed. The situation is good inside the Citadel but the disaster and the real damage was inflicted on the old market," said Mamoun Abdelkarim, Syria's Director General of Antiquities.

During its stormy history, Aleppo has been controlled by Hittites, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamluks and Ottomans and it bears the marks of many of those conquerors in its diverse architectural styles.

The great Ayyubid leader Salah al-Din, who battled European Crusaders in the 12th century, described Aleppo as being "the eye of Syria, and the citadel is its pupil."

No stranger to war and disaster, the Citadel was damaged by the Mongol invasion of 1260 and again destroyed by invading forces in 1400. It was used as a barracks for Ottoman troops and more recently for soldiers during the French mandate. It sustained heavy damage in the earthquake of 1822.

Among important features lost in recent fighting were medieval mosques and trading houses. Others, including the al-Shibani church school, evidence of Aleppo's history of religious tolerance, and the 13th century Nahasin bathhouse were damaged.

Aleppo's Old City and citadel had been restored in 2004.

One of the tactics used by rebels in the intense street fighting through the Old City's narrow alleyways was the detonation of mines, dug beneath army positions in tunnels. The soldier said even on top of the citadel one such blast, under the Carlton Hotel, a landmark, had felt like an earthquake.

"The bodies of our comrades are still under the hotel rubble," he added.

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