Lina Sergie Attar writes: Tucked outside the walls of the old city of Aleppo, there is a hidden 800-year-old Ayyubid stone building called Madraset al-Firdaws, or the School of Paradise. The small architectural gem was the vision of Dayfa Khatoun, the Kurdish-Syrian niece of Saladin, who ruled Aleppo for seven years in the 13th century. She envisioned a modern complex dedicated to the study of Sufi Islam. Every element in the complex followed the ancient and strict “golden proportion,” from the overall floor plan to the smallest details on the ornamental columns with muqarnas capitals. The building with its 11 domes was designed — from concept to execution — to stand apart from the dozens of other religious monuments in Aleppo. It was built to be perfect.
I visited Madrasat al-Firdows in June 2011 during my last visit to Aleppo. At that time, the people of the city were still safe, far from the turmoil erupting across Syria. Protests raged outside Aleppo’s borders, but absolute stillness occupied the courtyard as it had for centuries.
It is no longer so. The cobblestoned streets of old Aleppo have been torn into piles of rubble. War has lodged itself in the heart of the city for over two years now, splitting it literally in half between rebel and regime forces. Now ISIL fighters encircle what remains of Free Syrian Army territory as the city’s fate hangs in the balance. Many of Aleppo’s ancient artifacts have been destroyed—burned, bombed, looted. The city that was once home to over four million people, is now ravaged by over two years of indiscriminate shelling and constant barrel bombs launched by the Assad regime that killed, injured, and displaced thousands of innocents along with their precious cultural heritage. Rebels on the front line retaliate with haphazard shells of their own that strike both army forces and civilian bystanders.
Miraculously, Madraset al-Firdows still stands intact although devastating loss surrounds it.
Loss permeates every Syrian family. Three and a half bloody years of conflict has taken over 200,000 lives and displaced millions. Loss is a word that defines Syria today. [Continue reading…]