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IN PICTURES: Syria, before the revolution

A look back at Syria as it was before the civil war in a series of photographs from Aleppo, Damascus and the north-east 1999-2008

To mark the fourth anniversary since the start of the uprising that became Syria's civil war, Middle East Eye looks back at the country as it existed prior to March 2011. On a journey to Damascus, Aleppo and the country's northeast we present photos by Jerzy Wierzbicki of life in Syria between 1999 and 2008.

Wierzbicki said: “My first trip to Syria was in 1999 and later I went there in 2000, 2002 and 2008. I was a photographer on a few archeological excavations in Syria, mostly in the al-Jazira region in the northeast. During this time I went to live in the small towns and villages among the local people. This contact with the people and culture was much more valuable for me than even the most fantastic archeological object I could find during the excavations. Archeology was just an excuse to be there and explore the country with the camera.

“Quite often, before I had reached an excavation site, I had travelled around the country and spent long weeks or even months taking photographs."

Aleppo bazaar in August 1999

“Aleppo was my favourite place in Syria. It is a mosaic of people from many regions and religions in the Middle East, and always seemed to be a cultural capital with many thousand years of constant history. I will never forget the moments with a water pipe and strong Syrian black tea in a moody coffee shop located in the Aleppo streets. I will never forget a small Kurdish restaurant with magnificent grills and a night walk near 'Bab el Hadid' or the Ummayad Mosque.

“Now after more than a decade I realise that the world I had witnessed in Syria years ago does not exist anymore. My friends told me about the damage in Aleppo during the civil war. I would love to visit this part of the Middle East again and I cannot believe that the places in northern Syria - those associated to me with its peaceful and tolerant people - are the scene for barbaric practices that seem completely bizarre in the 21st century."