While most Arab historic souq's are largely a tourist trap, Aleppo is a largely intact historic city of 15,000 limestone buildings linked by labyrinthine streets and peaked-roof tunnels. Aleppo's enormous traditional souq boasts more than seven miles of passageways topped by vaulted stone ceilings with natural skylights. Selling everything from spices and freshly slaughtered lamb to carpets and hardware, the souq remains the heart of the city's commerce; only a tiny section caters to tourists.
Today, it is hemmed in on three sides by modern, straight, multilane streets, many of them lined with high-rise apartments and office buildings. But a few steps from the high-rises, the historic fabric remains intact.
It is a journey from a world of automobiles to a world of donkey carts; from a world of inert rectilinear forms to a world of alleyways, curving arches, and latticework windows; from garish, commercially produced signs hawking mobile phones and soft drinks to the simple black-and-green stenciled image of the Ka'ba in Mecca, Islam's holiest site, atop wooden doorways. Even more powerful than the visual impact of the transition is the auditory one. Just a few paces into the labyrinth, the din of vehicular traffic is replaced by the banter of conversation in the marketplace. A brief stroll deeper, and the voices of men are replaced by the voices of boys chasing after a soccer ball in a courtyard as a hijab-clad mother looks on from the window above.