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Making the Past Visible for the Future: Map of the Old City of Aleppo

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Part of the Heritage Studies book series (HEST)


This chapter introduces the aim, process and outcome of the first phase of producing the Map of the Old City of Aleppo as part of the Aleppo in Exile Project. The project was outlined to generate a base tool to be employed for directing the reconstruction processes towards respecting and enhancing the urban values and integrity of the Old City. Taking into account the richness of Aleppo as a cultural palimpsest of various historic layers, and with a view to the destruction of an ongoing war and an incompatible post-war planning and development process, the project aimed at filling the gap in the existing documentation and analysis on the Old City of Aleppo, by generating a comprehensive inventory of its pre-war urban structure in its totality and complexity. The project, although thematically closer to the World Heritage Convention, emphasizes the relevance of the Memory of the World Programme, by illustrating the role documents and documentary heritage can play in the context of built heritage.


  • Urban mapping
  • Documentation
  • Historic Urban Landscape
  • Integrity
  • Post-war reconstruction
  • Archive

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  1. 1.

    A World Heritage Site is an area or landmark selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or other type of significance, and it is legally protected by international treaties. The sites are judged important to the collective interests of humanity. To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be recognized as landmark, unique in some respect, as a place having special cultural or natural significance. It may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet. Sites are demarcated by UNESCO as protected zones and are enlisted in the World Heritage List. The List is maintained under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 State Parties which are elected by the General Assembly of State Parties to the Convention. The World Heritage Convention was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972. Since then, 193 State Parties have ratified the Convention, making it one of the most widely recognized international agreements and the world’s most popular cultural programme. A site may be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger if there are conditions that threaten the characteristics for which the landmark or area has been inscribed on the World Heritage List. Such problems may involve armed conflict and war, natural disasters, pollution, poaching or uncontrolled urbanization or development. This List of World Heritage in Danger is intended to increase international awareness of the threats and to encourage counteractive measures. Threats to a site can be either proven imminent threats or potential dangers that could have adverse effects on a site.

  2. 2.

    At the end of the year 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Syria reported that “As the crisis in Syria entered its seventh year in March 2017, humanitarian needs continue to grow unabated, with 13.5 million people in need of assistance and nearly 5 million refugees having fled across the borders. There are also 6.3 million internally displaced, with 4.9 million people living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas without regular access to humanitarian assistance. Behind the staggering numbers, these are families and communities that have been torn apart, innocent civilians that have been killed or injured, houses that have been destroyed, businesses and livelihoods that have been shattered, infrastructures that have collapsed, as well as basic social services that have been badly damaged in some areas. People are increasingly facing difficulties in meeting their most basic needs, as four out of five Syrians are living in poverty and an estimated 69 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty” (UNHRC Syria 2016, p. 2).

  3. 3.

    For more information, see four volumes of the report entitled Towards a protection of the Syrian cultural heritage: A summary of the international responses. Available at

  4. 4.

    For more information, see:

  5. 5.

    Our translation from German. “... Eine weitere Forschungslücke liegt in der räumlichen Begrenzung fast aller bisherigen Untersuchungen in Aleppo [...]. Eine lückenlos-flächendeckende Bearbeitung führt uns deshalb zur ‘Entdeckung’. [...] Damit wird es zu einer außenordentlich lohnenden Aufgabe, auf dem Fundament früherer Forschungen mit eigenen Untersuchungen weiterzubauen und in einem neuen Entwurf ein Bild der Altstadt von Aleppo zu zeichnen, das in vieler Hinsicht klarer, genauer und umfassender ist als bisherige Skizzen” [Original].


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Appendix: Detailed Information on the Plan of the Old City of Aleppo.

Appendix: Detailed Information on the Plan of the Old City of Aleppo.

1.1 Availability of the Plan of the Old City of Aleppo

The plan is available in the following three versions:

  • Plan of the Old City of Aleppo

  • Plan of the Old City of Aleppo with highlighted parcels

  • Plan of the Old City of Aleppo, showing the 1970s’ deteriorations of the urban structure

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1.2 Basic Sources of the Plan of the Old City of Aleppo

Generation of figure-ground plan was based on integration of the following documents:

  • French Cadastral Plans of Old Aleppo (1926–1930), digitized by GIZ and DOC (1997–1998) and edited by Berlin Museum of Islamic Art (2016) in the Syrian Heritage Archive Project (SHAP)

  • Courtyard mapping by University of Aleppo (UHADCA)

  • Three hundred ground floor plans of individual buildings and public spaces received from various sources

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Zarrin Ghalam, S., Wessling, C. (2020). Making the Past Visible for the Future: Map of the Old City of Aleppo. In: Edmondson, R., Jordan, L., Prodan, A.C. (eds) The UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. Heritage Studies. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-18440-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-18441-4

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