Monochromatic etching of Citadel.

Citadel of Aleppo (Syria): Citadel Rising from a Round Hill; Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948)

Aleppo: An Ancient City of Enduring Appeal

Sepia photograph of Citadel.
Citadel of Aleppo from outside Bab Antakiya, Ernst Herzfeld Papers

The Syrian city of Aleppo has received a lot of coverage recently due to the widespread destruction from years of civil war. In spite of this, the city is still one of the great architectural treasures of the Middle East, which has drawn travelers and scholars for centuries.

Monochromatic etching of Aleppo.
Citadel of Aleppo (Syria): early 19th century etching, Ernst Herzfeld Papers

Museum founder Charles Lang Freer visited the city in 1908, no doubt in his search for the lustrous pottery type associated with the nearby city of Raqqa. Although travel conditions prevented a visit to Raqqa, Freer was delighted with Aleppo, writing on June 19 to his business partner Frank Hecker, “Aleppo is a charming surprise – a beautiful ancient city, and in every way more attractive than I had fancied.” Among the hundreds of photographs he collected of Asia and the Middle East are twelve lovely views in and around Aleppo, likely acquired during his visit.

Sepia photograph of Aleppo.
Photograph of Aleppo collected by Charles Lang Freer, Charles Lang Freer Papers

Likewise, the renowned German scholar Ernst Herzfeld traveled many times to Aleppo during his decades of research and exploration in the Middle East. While his historical inscriptions of Aleppo were not published until after his death, the extraordinary number of drawings, photographs, and research notes in the Herzfeld collection is an important repository for the study of the city’s architectural heritage, so imperiled by recent conflicts.

Interior - vaulted ceilings, three people sitting on benches.
Interior of the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, Ernst Herzfeld Papers

This month, we have combined selections from these two collections into a slide show, currently on display outside of the museum shop and on YouTube.


    • Hi, Rebecca – Thanks for your comment! Here’s David’s reply: “Wow, that would have been wonderful, but I can’t find any evidence of contact or communication between the two. Of course, Bell came into contact with fellow scholar/archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld, who referred to her as ‘The uncrowned Queen of Iraq.'”

  • Beautiful pictures. Do you know what the status of Aleppo citadel is today (after ISIS)? does it still stand in part even with the destruction?

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