The Silk Road to Leytonstone By David Boote
There is a connection between Leytonstone and a city in the Middle East which is one of the oldest in the world and has for centuries been an exotic mix of cultures. Halab, known to Venetian and English traders as ‘Aleppo’, is now in Syria, but was within the long-lived and extensive Ottoman Empire. It was on the best route across the desert to and from the River Euphrates. It had been inhabited since the 11th millennium BC. Through Halab came goods from the regions around the rivers Euphrates and Tigris along well-frequented routes from Baghdad and Basra for spices from Asia until about 1600 and for silk from Iran until about 1722, as well as from Mosul and from Damascus by a route round the base of mountains rather than the coast.
I have not been to Halab and have no photos of my own. All I can do is provide links to photos on the internet. The first link shows a photo of the Silk Road at Halab.
Halab also had connections with Anatolia to the north. It had a population of about 100,000 and in the Middle East only Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, and Cairo were larger. Halab was about a mile and a half across but movement through it was by foot, or for the wealthy on the back of an animal. Halab was divided into 82 quarters closed at night from each other except through watched gates, of roughly 100 or 200 households each. Dwellings faced inwards to a courtyard with no exterior windows. The density of building and sounds from adjacent open courtyards meant that people knew a great deal about their neighbours. Each quarter had its shops providing normal goods, as well as a mosque and barbershop. There were no street signs, house numbers or maps. The neighbourhoods were religiously mixed even if their name suggested otherwise.
Neighbourhoods might have a predominant character but not an exclusively homogeneous one. At least half the population lived outside the city walls. Within the walls were the governor, high officials, the garrison, tax offices, prisons, residences of the élite, higher education colleges.
Occupations, including positions of Islamic religious authority, were hereditary and Halab was dominated by the families that dealt in grain and money, owned land in town and outside, collected taxes and administered charities. The Sultan appointed for one year terms of office the head of the busy and wide-ranging Shari’a Court (‘qadi’), and the city governor (‘pasha’) who had both civil and military authority and came from outside with his own loyal soldiers.