The Covered Souks of Aleppo – Syria

The World’s First Shopping Mall

Since Roman times, Aleppo has been a major trading center between Asia and the Mediterranean, with a strong corps of European merchants wheeling and dealing in the local bazaars.

A timeless energy of commerce and a vaguely European spirit linger on in the fabulous labyrinth of the city’s covered souks. This may be one of the best places in the Middle East to experience the exuberant bazaar life of a bygone era. The souks in this ancient crossroad still peddle cinnamon, saf­fron, cumin, coriander, carcasses of goats and lambs, roasted nuts, and the delicious pista­chios for which Aleppo has been renowned for centuries. Beneath a stone vault built by the Ottomans, close to 20 miles of covered pas­sages are abuzz with the hubbub of everyday shopping and the interactions of Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Turks, and Iranians.

When the Orient Express used to terminate in Aleppo, there was only one place to stay: the Baron Hotel, opened in 1909. The terrace is still a great place to recharge after a morning in the world’s first shopping mall. An illustrious clientele used to do just that – Lawrence of Arabia’s unpaid bill is on display in the lobby.

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