Aleppo's storied old city, which dates to the 12th century, has suffered much in the fighting between Syrian government forces and rebels over the past few months. But parts of the city remain intact, as I saw on a recent walk through the winding, stone alleys on the way to the front line.

Centuries ago, it took Muslims from this area months in a caravan to make the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, which is now part of Saudi Arabia.

The trip was so difficult that pilgrims took burial clothes with them in case they didn't survive. If they did return home, families would organize a grand welcoming party. They would slaughter a sheep and invite relatives and neighbors. The house would be open for three days and nights.

The house would also be decorated, and a stencil would be painted over the door, a mark of honor showing a drawing of the holy stone in Mecca — the Kaaba — and the archways of the Sacred Mosque that surrounds it.

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