For centuries, Aleppo was the largest city in the Syrian region, and the Ottoman Empire's third-largest after Constantinople and Cairo. The city's significance in history has been its location at one end of the Silk Road, which passed through central Asia and Mesopotamia. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1869, trade was diverted to sea and Aleppo began its slow decline. At the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Aleppo ceded its northern hinterland to modern Turkey, as well as the important railway connecting it to Mosul. In the 1940s, it lost its main access to the sea, Antakya and İskenderun, also to Turkey. Finally, the isolation of Syria in the past few decades further exacerbated the situation. This decline may have helped to preserve the old city of Aleppo, its medieval architecture and traditional heritage. It won the title of the "Islamic Capital of Culture 2006", and has had a wave of successful restorations of its historic landmarks. The Battle of Aleppo (2012–2016) occurred in the city during the Syrian Civil War, and many parts of the city suffered massive destruction. Affected parts of the city are currently undergoing reconstruction.
Modern-day English-speakers commonly refer to the city as Aleppo. It was known in antiquity as Khalpe, Khalibon, and to the Greeks and Romans as Beroea (Βέροια). During the Crusades, and again during the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon of 1923–1946, the name Alep was used. Aleppo represents the Italianised version of this.
The original ancient name, Halab, has survived as the current Arabic name of the city. It is of obscure origin. However, the term Ḥalab might be derived from (Hebrew: חלב, lit. 'milk') related to a folktale of Abraham, who milked his sheep to feed the poor. Others have proposed that Ḥalab means "iron" or "copper" in Amorite languages, since the area served as a major source of these metals in antiquity. Another possibility is that Ḥalab means 'white', as this is the word for 'white' in Aramaic, the local language which preceded regional Arabization. This may explain how Ḥalab became the Hebrew word for milk or vice versa, as well as offers a possible explanation for the modern-day Arabic nickname of the city, ash-Shahbaa (Arabic: الشهباء), which means "the white-colored mixed with black" and allegedly derives from the famous white marble of Aleppo.