It is perhaps insensitive to write about Aleppo as a 'travel destination', given both the suffering it has recently endured and the fact that any form of tourism seems so distant. To me however, the joy of Iris is that it celebrates the positive; I feel privileged to have travelled in Syria before the war began and so this entry is a tribute, at a difficult but appropriate time, to a city that was so full of wonder.
The Baron Hotel was the place to stay. A favourite of T.E Lawrence, Agatha Christie and Kemal Attaturk, the faded elegance had a particular charm. The walls spoke of the journeys that had been undertaken from the hotel. Aleppo is thought to be the longest continually inhabited city, a claim reflected by the striking fusion of Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman architecture.
The Christian Quarter of al-Jdeida is full of cobbled alleyways that spill out onto beautiful churches, with the magnificent Maronite Cathedral worth exploring. Eat baklava and hummus at any number of restaurants here, set up in the courtyards of old Ottoman houses with long vines hanging down from crumbling arches. Climb the Citadel, initially built by the Seleucids in the 4th Century BC, then find some shade in the Great Mosque.
There is history, stories of survival and pluralism everywhere. Or at least there was; who knows what remains. The excellent Aleppo by Philip Mansell offers a more detailed and timely insight into this remarkable city. And if you feel like doing something positive, buy the recently published Cook For Syria to learn about Syrian cuisine and support the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.
Words by Alexander Shirreff. The Iris Letter March 2016.