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.