A view over the Umayyad Mosque, as seen from Aleppo's citadel, in 2009.

I first visited Syria in 2009, and spent my first night there in Aleppo. I was a backpacker, and spent several days taking in the sights of the city before making my way southwards. I fell in love with Syria so much that I twice renewed my visa and lived in Damascus for two months.

The next time I went back, in August 2012, was a much more melancholic experience. I spent two weeks in and around Aleppo for Agence France-Presse, a lot of that time in the UNESCO-listed Old City documenting the conflict there. Yesterday, the 11th century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque was destroyed (pictured above, the largest, front-most minaret visible in the picture.)

The BBC quotes an official source saying that the one of the factions fighting the government, "terrorists... placed explosive materials in the minaret and the mosque's southern door and set them off". On the Free Syrian Army side, an Aleppo-based activist says that "a [government] tank shell had 'totally destroyed' the 45m (148ft) minaret."

When I first visited Aleppo, I spent days wandering the Old City, walking the narrow alleyways of the bazaars, and marvelling in the architecture of a society that dates back centuries. Last August, the souqs were all-but empty of civilians, the shop-shutters down (and filled with bullet holes), and many of the historical sights there now bore the scars of conflict. I spent a night in a Damascene boutique hotel, which was now a forward base for a group of fighters with the Free Syrian Army.

Below are a few images from the "old" Old City in 2009, and its war-ravaged state in August 2012.

(Click for full image)

— For more of my work on Syria's conflict, see: The Battle for Aleppo