Aleppo: from World City to Catastrophe. A talk by Philip Mansel. Thursday 6th May, 2021 6pm

In this talk, using unpublished portraits and photographs, Philip Mansel shows that Aleppo was a city with a rhythm of its own, challenging categories and generalisations. Lying between the desert and the sea, the mountains of Anatolia and the banks of the Euphrates, it was Arab and Turkish; Kurdish and Armenian; Christian, Muslim and Jewish. An Arabic-speaking city with a Muslim majority, under the Ottoman Empire Aleppo also became a centre of French culture and Catholic missions. Like many other cities in Syria and the Levant, it mixed East and West. Until 2012 Aleppo was distinguished by its harmony. For four hundred years, whatever their origin, its inhabitants had lived together relatively peacefully. The reasons for this harmony, and for its recent destruction in the Syrian civil war, are the subject of this talk.

Aleppo is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was successively ruled by the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and French empires. Following the Ottoman conquest in 1516, it became the empire’s third largest city, after Constantinople and Cairo. It owed its wealth to its position at the end of the Silk Road, at a crossroads of world trade, where merchants from Mecca, Isfahan and Agra traded in the largest suq in the Middle East. Its food and music were famous throughout the region. For 400 years Venetian, British and French consuls and merchants also lived in Aleppo, trading in cloth, silk and horses. Hence Shakespeare’s references in Macbeth (‘her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the Tiger’), and Othello (‘ in Aleppo once, where a malignant and a turban’d Turk beat a Venetian and traduced the state’). For the English traveller Thomas Coryate, Aleppo was ‘the principal emporium of all Syria or rather of the Orient world’. One of the best books on the city The Natural History of Aleppo is by two Edinburgh doctors, Alexander and Patrick Russell, first published in 1756.

The souk of Aleppo. 1940
The souk of Aleppo. 1940

Date: Thursday 7th May, 6pm

Venue: The Nomads Tent

Tickets £8. Payment on the door. Proceeds to go to Mercy Corps who are still working hard to support the fallout from 8 years of war in Syria.

To book please complete our online booking form or call us on 0131 662 1612

Doors open at 6
Talk begins at 6.15pm
7pm questions and discussion to follow.
7.15pm refreshments

Dr. Philip Mansel is a historian of France and the Ottoman Empire. He was born in London in 1951 and educated at Eton College, where he was a King’s Scholar, and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Modern History and Modern Languages. He has lived in Paris, Beirut, Istanbul and now London. Philip Mansel has published fourteen books of history and biography, mainly relating to France or the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East: Sultans in Splendour was published in 1988, Constantinople: City of the World’s Desire 1453-1924 in 1995; Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean, on Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut in 2010; and Aleppo: the Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City in 2016. His most recent book is King of World: The Life of Louis XIV, published by Penguin in July 2019. Six of his books have been translated into French. He writes reviews for The Spectator, Cornucopia, The Art Newspaper and The Times Literary Supplement.

In 1995 Philip Mansel was a founder with David Starkey and Simon Thurley of the Society for Court Studies,, designed to promote research on royal courts and dynasties, and he edited its journal from 1996 to 2016. In 2010 he helped establish the Levantine Heritage Foundation, dedicated to the cultures and history of the eastern Mediterranean, which has since held conferences in Izmir, Istanbul, London and Athens: He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Literature, the Institute of Historical Research (University of London) and the Royal Asiatic Society, and is president of the Conseil Scientifique of the Centre de Recherche du Chateau de Versailles. In 2012 he won the London Library life in Literature award. For further information, please see

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