Cities before conflict: What it was like to visit Juarez, Tehran, and 13 other afflicted places
Cities before conflict: What it was like to visit Juarez, Tehran, and 13 other afflicted places
Violence, conflict, and economic collapse have devastated some of the world's most magnificent cities and their ancient treasures.
Bombs and other weapons of destruction have decimated the historical buildings, homes, and palaces of these once-thriving places. Residents in cities that formerly offered peace and serenity are now running for their lives. Sites where people once strolled are riddled with landmines or heaped with rubble, and towns that once teemed with life and festivities now comprise streets littered with the dead.
Capitals where nightlife once flourished are ghost towns, economic centers where trade once thrived remain shuttered, cultural towns where renowned chefs once cooked are rampant with starvation, and former playgrounds that once entertained the rich transform into impoverished cemeteries for the poor.
In some cities, the devastation is new. Violence struck Donetsk in 2014 after pro-Russia and anti-government groups rebelled against Ukrainian rule. Destruction and protest against autocratic rule currently govern the streets of Omdurman. Oil-rich Caracas, previously booming with wealth and tourism less than a generation ago, continues its spiral down economic descent.
Elsewhere, the destruction is age-old. The histories of Jerusalem and Kabul brim with invasions and conquest. 13th-century Mongol warriors ravaged Baghdad, Aleppo, and Gaza, destroying all that lay in their path.
While rebuilding in some places may be possible, the results are most likely to pale against what stood before. Newly built marketplaces can scarcely replace the warrens and mazes of ancient souks, and many would agree that nothing can replace the ancient monuments of Sana'a, a once major Islamic center brought to the brink of modern destruction.
Stacker collected information from travel guides, government documents, and news reports to find photographs of 15 cities before and after the ravages of violence, war, and catastrophe. The pictures in this gallery include those ranging from the 1990s to the current day.
Click through Stacker's list to get a better understanding of how human conflict destroyed these once-thriving cities from around the world.
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Ciudad Juárez, Mexico was a lively border city where visitors from El Paso crossed the Rio Grande River for its shopping, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Its popularity boomed among Americans looking for a drink during Prohibition, such as in this 1930 photo. Juarez was a place to get a quick divorce, and one local cocktail bar claimed to have invented the margarita.
Security tightened along the United States-Mexico border after Sept. 11, 2001, and Ciudad Juárez became a center for smuggling people and drugs. Warring cartels, helped by corrupt authorities, fought for control and turned the city into a battleground, such as the 2006 street scene above. Thousands of businesses closed, and residents fled.
Tehran was Persia’s center, bursting with ornate palaces and opulent gardens, such as the 1900s scene pictured here. In the 20th century, it was one of the world’s most populous cities. Under the rule of the U.S.-backed Shah, education was secularized, the hijab was banned, and fashions were Westernized.
While the elite during the Shah’s monarchy enjoyed an oil-rich lifestyle, Iranians chafed under inequality and pressures that erupted in a revolution in 1979. The Shah was deposed, and in his place came a strict, religious, anti-Western leadership. The 2018 street mural here shows the strong sentiment. Travelers from western nations are scarce, and guides are required to accompany American visitors at all times.
Only a few years ago, the glamorous capital city of oil-rich Venezuela lured wealthy visitors to savor its cuisine, arts, and culture, such as the 1973 scene pictured above. Venezuela was one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries, and in 2008, its tourism industry generated $1 billion.
Utterly dependent on its oil resources, Venezuela spiraled into a stunning economic collapse after oil prices dropped steeply in 2014. Its affluence sank under the weight of corruption, massive debt, and mismanagement of its state-owned oil company. Shortages of fuel, food, and medicine have caused malnutrition, disease, looting, crime, rioting, and violence such as that pictured here in 2019. Caracas has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Aleppo in northern Syria is believed to be the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city, with its first settlers living there over 8,000 years ago. A dazzling highlight of the ancient city was its imposing walled citadel, pictured here in 2008. Its grand market, teeming with gold, silver, silk, and spices, was one of the biggest in the world and recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Protests calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and a harsh government response hurtled Syrian into a civil war in 2011. Aleppo’s ancient treasures and buildings were reduced to rubble, such as those in 2019 shown here, from shelling, mortar fire, street fighting, and landmines that detonated in its narrow alleyways. Entangled in the war were rebel militants, Islamic extremists, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the United States, and other forces. In 2016, the Syrian army recaptured Aleppo. Assad remains in power.
Gaza, figured prominently in the Biblical tale of Samson and Delilah, came under siege by Alexander the Great and was conquered by the Assyrians, Persians, Maccabees, Romans, and Arabs. Most recently, the Mediterranean seaside region, pictured here in 2009, has been locked in tangled conflict with Israel.
Israel regularly launches airstrikes and Palestinian forces fire rockets and mortars in seemingly never-ending clashes. A blockade severely restricts supplies of medicine, consumer goods, raw materials, and fuel into Gaza, where power outages are frequent and clean, running water scarce. The violence has left a bleak landscape of destroyed buildings, unfinished construction, and debris, such as that pictured in 2019 here. Israel tightly controls entry, and Palestinians are not free to leave. Gaza is not open to international travelers.
Bisected by the Tigris River, pictured here in 2003, Iraq’s historic city of Mosul was a crown jewel in the Middle East. Its diverse population of Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Turkmen, and Jews lived in a land rich with oil. Palaces, mosques, and museums were filled with age-old, irreplaceable artifacts.
The United States in 2003 invaded Iraq, battered by years of rule by strongman Saddam Hussein. About a decade later, militant Islamic State fighters declared Mosul their Iraqi capital. They left Mosul in tatters, as pictured here in 2017. Ancient tombs were dynamited, statuary toppled, friezes smashed to bits, and valuable antiquities were sold off for revenue.
Green and lush, the seaside city of Beirut was once known as "the Paris of the Middle East." A cosmopolitan playground for the rich, as seen in this 1970 photograph, Beirut had top-notch cuisine and eye-catching architecture—thanks to long ties to France. Its promenade offered gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, with Syria, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel, France, and the United States playing a part. Rebuilding has taken place but at the cost of demolishing historical buildings and streets to make way for modern construction. Mindful of unfriendly neighbors like Syria to the east and Israel to the south, Lebanese soldiers patrol Beirut’s streets, and military checkpoints dot the city, as seen in this 2019 photograph.
The Atlantic Ocean coastal city of Monrovia, founded during the administration of U.S. President James Monroe—hence its name—was the bustling port for Liberia, a settlement designed for freed American slaves. Pictured here in 1950, it was a hub for education, commerce, and culture. Its architecture was reminiscent of America’s Old South.
A devastating civil war beginning in 1990 tore Liberia apart, lasting more than a decade. A period of peace and rebuilding ensued under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. However, an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus struck Liberia and its West African neighbors in 2014, battering its economy. It remains unstable, as seen in this 2019 photograph.
Baghdad was unsurpassed as a cultural and economic center since it was built under the supervision of an 8th-century caliph who wanted it constructed in a circular design, illustrated in this 2002 photograph, in tribute to the geometric teachings of Euclid. The city thrived with trading from East Africa, India, and China and was home to poets, scholars, and artists producing such works as "One Thousand and One Nights."
The capital of Iraq has struggled to recover since an invasion by U.S. forces in 2003 and war with the Islamic State. With persistent sectarian violence, as shown here in 2004, it remains vulnerable to bombings and suicide attacks. Visitors face near-impossible bureaucratic hurdles to get in and must be accompanied by a government guide.
Jerusalem, pictured here in 1977, provides glimpses into history and religion like no other city. It is home to the sacred Wailing Wall, the Via Dolorosa path (said to be taken by Jesus to his crucifixion), the site of Jesus' Biblical resurrection, the Dome of the Rock where Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven, and a world-renowned Arab market.
The divided city of Jerusalem, uncomfortably shared by Jews, Arabs, and Christians, is a touchstone in Middle East politics, often with violent consequences such as that portrayed in this 2010 photograph. Palestinians seek an independent state with East Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967, as its capital. The United States sparked a firestorm in 2018 when it moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, formally recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital. Much of the international community does not consider Jerusalem the capital, as it is claimed by Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Somalia's capital of Mogadishu is strategically located on the Horn of Africa, on the shores of the Arabian Sea. The trading center once thrived, as shown in this 1992 photograph, complete with luxury hotels and tourists seeking its beaches.
Somalia was a land historically divided up among European powers, then cobbled together into an independent nation in 1960. Its internal conflicts exploded into civil war in 1992 that pushed the country into anarchy and famine. The Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 formed the basis of the book and movie “Black Hawk Down” about a raid to capture a powerful warlord. Mogadishu is considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities, crippled by car bombings, kidnappings, and attacks by Islamic extremists. The subsequent damage is shown in this 2019 photograph.
Omdurman, pictured above in 2008, is one of three towns that form the Sudanese capital of Khartoum and sits on the west bank of the Nile River. It is the site of Sudan’s official radio and television studios, government buildings, military installations, and top universities, and it is filled with historical monuments, tombs, and mosques.
This year, Omdurman was home to many protests that led to the military overthrow in April of President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years. Recent protests, with deadly results, have sought civilian rule and an end to the military regime. A street scene from this year is pictured here.
Nestled in a mountain valley, Sana’a was a major Islamic center in the 7th and 8th centuries. Inhabited for over 2,500 years, the Old City was the site of thousands of distinctive hard-packed, mud-brick gingerbread-style homes built before the 11th century. Pictured here, they are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
War has destroyed many of Sana’a’s historic buildings, pictured in this 2019 photograph, prompting condemnation by the United Nations’ heritage group. Yemen has been in the throes of a brutal conflict between supporters of its ousted president and Houthi rebel groups. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has targeted Houthi sites around Sana’a.
According to legend, Kabul was founded by the Biblical brothers Cain and Abel. Despite being fought over for centuries, the Afghan capital, shown here in a photograph from the 1980s, was filled with delightful gardens, bazaars, mosques, palaces, and parks.
Modern-day Kabul has been ravaged by Soviet occupation, civil war, harsh rule by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, and a U.S.-led invasion in 2001. A typical scene is shown here from 2006. Deadly attacks by Islamic extremists are frequent, and the suicide bombings, terror attacks, kidnapping, and landmines have kept visitors away.
Industrial Donetsk was a busy metal-and-mining capital in Ukraine, perched on sweeping steppes along the Kalmius River. Pictured here in a 2013 photograph, Donetsk was called "Stalino" under the rule of Joseph Stalin.
Rebellions broke out against Ukrainian rule in Donetsk in 2014. Hostile to Ukraine, Russia provided military help to the insurgents. Separatists proclaimed the Donetsk People’s Republic in 2014. But with its independence not recognized internationally, the breakaway republic is the site of bitter conflict. Shown here in a 2015 photograph, Donetsk is still considered extremely unsafe for foreigners.