The great citadel of Aleppo has the grim distinction of being the world’s only ancient fortress that is back in action today as a garrison and artillery battery in the midst of war. In the ruins of arsenals, dungeons and palaces from earlier centuries, troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are wreaking destruction on enemies in the plain below, as though the Middle Ages had never ended.
The slits in the walls which used to allow archers to launch their arrows at attackers are now used by Syrian government marksmen with sophisticated sniper rifles, safely taking aim at targets in the streets beneath them. Artillery rounds are regularly fired at Islamist rebel fighters from positions inside the castle grounds.
Since 2012, when rebel forces first tried to seize Syria’s second city, the Aleppo citadel has been on the front line. Like the massive crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers, which was held for over a year by rebel forces who could dominate a valley full of Christian villages west of Homs, the Aleppo citadel used to be one of Syria’s major tourist attractions. Designated as Unesco World Heritage sites, both have suffered untold damage which will only be open for proper assessment when the war is over.