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Crushed flowers

Published by The Economist on Thu, 29 Sep 2016


ALEPPO'S location was always a blessing and a curse. It lay at the fork on the Silk Road where goods went south to Africa and the Middle East or north into Eurasia. Merchants milked the proceeds, helped by carrier pigeons from Baghdad bringing daily updates on shifting commodity prices. But it was also a prize. Empires battled for its wealth.In the tenth century it shifted from Christian Byzantine to Shia Fatimid to Sunni Abbasid hands, sometimes every few days. Merchants nodded, checked the wind and kept out of the fray. Its location was too important not to overcome earthquakes or sacking by the Mongols or Tamerlane. 'It was just about trading,' says Philip Mansel, who this year published a timely book on Aleppo's rise and fall.Prosperous local merchants invested in music, poetry and food, rather than shrines, of which there are remarkably few. 'Excess is obnoxious, even in religious worship,'is an oft-quoted Aleppo proverb. Unlike Damascus, which traditionally was more devout, Aleppo embraced Turkish-speaking Ottoman rulers as readily as French imperialists. Access to their new markets was too attractive to do otherwise. The Ottomans made it their second city after they seized it in 1516. It was the only Arab city where their sultans spent much time. Aleppo's architecture and culture reflected its grandeur. The Prophet...Continue reading
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