Profile: Aleppo, Syria's second city
Aleppo, which has seen fierce clashes between rebels and Syrian government forces, is Syria's largest city and is the country's industrial and financial centre.
Its population of two million is made up mainly of Sunni Muslims, most of whom are Arabs but some of whom are Kurds. It also has the largest population of Christians in the country, and along with a mix of other religious and ethnic communities, the city's demographics largely mirror those of the country as a whole.
As one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world - along with the capital, Damascus - and coloured with the stories of the many ancient travellers and merchants who passed through on their journeys along the famous Silk Road, Aleppo's beauty is hard to compare.
The medieval citadel and covered souk are two of its famous landmarks - both listed by Unesco as world heritage sites, which said it mirrored the rich and diverse cultures of its successive occupantsRole in the conflict
Aleppo, which lies 350km (220 miles) north of Damascus, has always maintained a distinct status in Syria and has preserved its identity as one of the region's most important ancient city states.
For this reason, it has been slow to enter the violence, and while activists say opposition has existed for some time inside the city, its relationship with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is less clear.
Although Aleppo has been hit by devastating bomb attacks in recent months, and the university has been the site of much unrest, only more recently have central districts of the city been affected by continued violence.
It is thought that now economic sanctions have started to bite, Aleppo has finally been dragged into the fray.
As Syria's economic capital, the government knows unrest here has major repercussions for the rest of the country - the city essentially feeds Syria.
With its largely agriculturally-based economy, Syria relies on produce farmed in the Aleppo provincial region, and its major factories operate out of the city.
But with diesel shortages and fuel diverted to supporting the military, activists say many of the city's key factories, which produce wheat, sugar and cement among other things, have ground to a halt.
Trade embargoes and sanctions on individuals and companies thought allied to the regime have also taken their toll on Aleppan industry and commerce.
Economic elites and merchant families, long-time allies of the Assad regime and - as Sunnis - crucial to keeping the country's delicate sectarian balance on an even keel, have seen their fortunes change.
As a result, they may have started to turn a blind eye to the encroaching FSA. They may even have started to help them.
For the government to seem unable to keep unrest at bay in Aleppo is a major coup for the opposition.
They could not hope - at this stage - to "take" Aleppo in a conventional military sense. But breaking down its presumed status as staunch regime heartland is an important symbolic victory that speaks to both the undecided masses inside Syria, and the international community looking on.