Yemeni, Sudanese and Palestinian ministers of culture were present for the event, including Riad Naasan Agha; the Culture Minister  and Naji Otri; the Prime Minister alongside Syrian officials and Ismaeli leader Karim Agha Khan.
 
Agha said: "It is the responsibility of all of us, as an Arab and international family, to declare at this occasion that when we meet, we raise the banner of friendship and peace that is our universal message."

"We appeal to the world for dialogue, Christians and Muslims united to edify this culture," he said.

"Muslims brought civilisation to (Spain's) Andalusia. They protected the Jews and recognised and guaranteed everybody's right of expression."

East, West passage

Agha said earlier that Aleppo had been chosen by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) because of its role as the "main point of passage between East and West", where cultures have met and melded in an "example of coexistence among religions, communities and races".

President Assad inaugurates the
renovated Ummayad mosque

Inaugural events included the rededication of the 12th-century Ummayad Great Mosque, which has been under restoration for the past five years and a concert by hometown singer Sabah Fakhri, who is renowned in the Arab world.

Otri said: "This event is an historic Islamic-Christian encounter and a  message to those who feel hatred towards Islam and who seek to damage its image."

"This Islam ... is our pride, particularly at times when it is the object of a fierce campaign of defamation," he said.

Celebrations
 
Throughout the year, plays, films, conferences, roundtables, book salons, concerts and parades will be held to honour the city for its traditional architecture and cultural, scientific, artistic and economic activities.
 

Aleppo is located 350km north of
the Syrian capital

Located 350km north of the Syrian capital, Aleppo is celebrated for its fortresses, gates, covered souqs (markets), caravansaries, mosques, churches, Turkish baths, hospital and schools.

It is a city whose origins extend back into the mists of time, and rivals Damascus for the title of the world's oldest, continually inhabited city.

It stands at the crossroads of several trade routes, including the famed Silk Route, from the second millennium BC, and has been successively ruled by the Hitties, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes and Ottomans.
 
In addition to Aleppo, the OIC also designated Isfahan, Iran as the Islamic cultural capital for Asia and Timbuktu, Mali as the capital for Africa.