Aleppo: from Cosmopolis to Catastrophe, with Philip Mansel


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In the first history of Aleppo in English, Philip vividly describes its decline from a pinnacle of cultural and economic power to a city shattered by Syria's civil war.

As we see with such sorrow, Aleppo lies in ruins. Its streets are plunged in darkness, most of its population has fled. But this was once a vibrant world city, where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and traded together in relative harmony. How much do we really know about the city, its peoples & its history? Dr Mansel, a frequent visitor to the city over many decades, one of our pre-eminent historians of the Levant & the Middle East, will illuminate all in this splendidly illustrated talk.

Few places are as ancient and diverse as Aleppo - one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities on earth. It was a global, trading city, with the largest souq in the Arab world, situated at the end of the Silk Road, at a crossroads of world trade, located between the Mediterranean, the Arabian Desert and the mountains of Anatolia. It had a great culture, famous for its food and its music, it's silk and textiles. It received regular caravans from Constantinople, the Caucasus, Isfahan, and the Gulf, as well as being on a major hajj route to Mecca. There were Venetian, French, English and Dutch consulates in Aleppo – among the oldest in the world.

Aleppo survived the first and second world wars, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the French occupation in 1920-46, relatively unscathed. Today, however, it has been called 'the worst place in the world'.

Aleppo is a warning to other cities. If politics and economics go wrong, if the government weakens or turns hostile, even the most peaceful city, with a tradition of tolerance, can become hell on earth.


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Dr. Philip Mansel

Philip is a historian of France and the Middle East. He has lived in Paris, Istanbul and Beirut, and frequently visited Aleppo.

His books include Constantinople, City of the World's Desire (1995); Levant , Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, on Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut; and Aleppo, the Rise and Fall of Syria's Great Merchant City (2016). He has also written a life of Louis XVIII (1981); Paris between Empires (2001), a history of the city in the nineteenth century; Prince of Europe, a biography of the Prince de Ligne (2003); and a history of royal costume, Dressed to Rule (2005).

He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Literature and a founder of the Society for Court Studies and the Levantine Heritage Foundation. He is currently working on a life of Louis XIV.

Philip has organised an international conference for the The Levantine Heritage Foundation on...

The Levant and Europe: Shipping and Trade: Networks of People and Knowledge

It will take place in London from the 2nd to the 4th of November, 2016




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2016Martin Keeley