The restoration work in the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria, was completed in 2006 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

AKDN / Christian Richters

The restoration of the Citadel of Masyaf (southwest view) in Syria was completed in 2006.

AKTC / Christian Richters

Restoration work on the Castle of Salah ad-Din, in Al Haffah, Syria, was completed in 2006.

AKDN / Christian Richters

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook the restoration of the entrance complex of the Citadel of Aleppo. …

AKDN / Christian Richters

The restoration work in the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria, was completed in 2006 by the Aga Khan Trust for …

AKDN / Christian Richters

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Syria | Cultural Development


76 traditional shop facades were rebuilt in the Souq al Saghir in Masyaf

Bridge tower and Ayyubid bridge, Citadel of Aleppo, Syria. 

AKDN / Christian Richters

Citadel of Aleppo

Aleppo is one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. It had developed as a crossroads between East and West, straddling important trade routes linking the desert to the sea. Until 1930, the city remained more or less confined within its mediaeval boundaries, limited by its walls and early suburbs, which were surrounded by pistachio, fig and olive groves.

Prior to the current situation, about 100,000 people, or five percent of Aleppo’s population, lived in the historic Old City. It was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986.

The Citadel of Aleppo, which rises above the ancient city of Aleppo, is one of the foremost monuments of the Islamic world. Inside the walls, a long history of bombardments, pillaging and earthquakes had taken its toll. Conservation focused on a number of key areas that had a spatial or historic coherence: the Ayyubid Palace complex, the western section of the Citadel crown and the main surrounding walls.

The project included significant investment in landscaping around the Citadel, creation of a pedestrian zone at its entrance, traffic planning and conservation of key buildings. The objective was to enhance the Citadel’s place in the city and realise its potential as a significant contributor to economic development in the Old City.

Sustainability is a key aspect of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme’s projects. The programme at the Citadels included investment in facilities such as visitors’ centres, pathways and guidebooks, and development of site management procedures.

Restoration work inside the Citadel of Aleppo was completed in 2006.

Citadel of Salah al Din

The Citadel of Salah al Din is located in the coastal mountain range, close to the coastal town of Latakia. It rests high on a ridge between two deep ravines, surrounded by forest.

Much of what remains visible today dates from the Franks, who occupied the site around 1100 AD. The Crusader walls were breached by the armies of Salah al Din in July 1188, and it is from this victory that the castle takes its present name. Over the next hundred years, the new Muslim rulers built a mosque and a fine palace and baths at the heart of the castle complex. Later, a madrasa was also constructed. It is these Ayyubid and Mamluk sections of the Citadel that AKTC selected for its conservation efforts. Conservation work began in 2000 with the restoration of the mosque and its minaret and the adjacent madrasa.

The minaret posed particular problems: an earthquake had broken the top of the minaret apart, causing it to partially collapse. Work at the Ayyubid Palace was preceded by a detailed archaeological survey of the ruins carried out by a team from the Sorbonne University in Paris. Conservation work was completed at the end of 2003.

Citadel of Masyaf

Masyaf Citadel is smaller in scale than Aleppo or Salah ad-Din and is situated on the edge of a provincial town. A fighting castle rather than a royal seat, and more rugged in character, the Citadel was one of the most complete mediaeval fortresses surviving in Syria. Most of what remains standing dates from the period of Ismaili occupation in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The project included conservation of the entire structure. Just as at the other citadel sites, the physical conservation work conserved the ruined character of the monument while adding support and strength where required. Conservation work on the Citadel began in 2000 on a section of the outer wall, which had partially collapsed. A comprehensive conservation project encompassing the entire site was completed in 2004.

Revitalisation of the Souq al Saghir

A small townscape improvement project, in Masyaf, focused on upgrading the central market complex, Souk al Saghir. It aimed to use built heritage as a catalyst for economic and social development, enhancing the commercial function of the market without undermining its historical fabric.

The project sought to enhance the physical appearance of the historic market and encourage visitors and citizens of the town to enter the Souq and support local businesses. The restoration of the Souq al Saghir, or Small Souq, in Masyaf, featured the rehabilitation of 76 traditional shop facades and the replacement of the roof covering the Souq. The project included traffic engineering measures, street resurfacing and lighting, and the rehabilitation of the Masjid al Noori and the mausoleum of Norrudin Ahmed.

The restoration was part of an area revitalisation plan that includes the restoration of the Masyaf Citadel, the creation of a pedestrian street running from the Citadel to the Souq and the provision of tourist facilities, including parking for cars and buses.

Restoration work in Masyaf was completed in 2006.

Urban Contexts and Area Development

If managed properly, investment in historic monuments and their environments can preserve cultural heritage and stimulate economic development. During the early stage of the citadel restoration projects, AKTC expanded the initial scope of pure conservation work to include the contextual dimensions of the three sites. A number of area development projects were planned, working in collaboration with other AKDN agencies dealing with microfinance and tourism.

Aleppo Citadel is located in the heart of the Old City. The Citadel was like an oversized roundabout, with a constant stream of vehicles cutting off access from and into the historic town. In 2004, AKTC initiated a planning project in the perimeter of the citadel, working in close collaboration with the Old City Directorate and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). It included major infrastructure improvements, traffic management plans, landscape design, stimulating housing rehabilitation and proposals for reuse of key historic structures.

The Aleppo Perimeter Project was completed in 2010.


In 2008, AKTC began work on a benchmark project for the adaptive use of landmark buildings in the historic city of Damascus.

Working with the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, AKTC embarked on the restoration and development of three historical palaces, Beits Sibaie, Nizam and Quwatli, into hotels. Each site, using state-of-the-art technical and engineering techniques to survey the walls, ceilings and floors, has been carefully documented. Once the documentation and planning were completed, a team of experts began the process of restoring the worst damaged parts of the buildings, starting with those areas that were in danger of collapsing.

Restoration work was halted in 2010.