Nowadays Iraq is going through tough times - but its past has been splendid. Here evolved worlds first empires and cities, here formed agriculture, irrigation and writing. We - contemporary humans - have only scratched a bit of the rich historical heritage in Iraq and when peace will come, scientists will have endless work here.
Most interesting landmarks in Iraq are:
- Prehistoric and ancient cities. Although visually not too interesting, these cities hold a clue to the roots of modern civilization. Here is world's oldest city Eridu, world's oldest capital city Lagash, the legendary Babylon and numerous other prehistoric and ancient cities.
- Ziggurats. There remain just a few of these exceptional ancient shrines in Iraq, best known is Ziggurat of Ur.
- Islamic shrines. In Iraq are located some of most important Islamic shrines - Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf and Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala. Both structures are partly covered with gold.
- Baba Gurgur - Kirkuk. Enormous oil field with eternal flame at one oil gusher. Sacred site since the antiquity. In 1927 oil prospectors hit an oil basin which was under pressure and formed 42 m tall oil fountain and huge cloud of oil.
- Bekhal spring - Erbil. Powerful spring which forms a picturesque waterfall. This spring can yield up to 13 m³ of clean water per second.
- Gali Ali Beg - Erbil. Best known waterfall in Iraq - some 30 m tall and 10 - 15 m wide fall in the picturesque Gali Ali Beg canyon.
Man made landmarks
- Choga Mami - Diyala. Site of very old settlement where sometimes around 6000 BC were developed the world's first irrigation canals.
- Jarmo - Kirkuk. Remnants of Neolithic settlement, one of world's earliest agricultural societies. Inhabited from 7,090 to 4,950 BC.
- Shanidar Cave - Erbil. Cave has provided important discoveries regarding Neanderthals, such as the information about their funeral ceremonies, care for injured individuals. One Neanderthal found in cave seems to be killed by a human.
World's first cities, Sumerian cities
- Eridu - Dhi Qar. Possible oldest city in the world, founded sometimes around 5400 BC and turned into a large city by 2900 BC, when its area was up to10 ha and there were at least 4,000 inhabitants. Declined around 2050 BC.
- Jemdet Nasr - Babil. Remains of ancient settlement where some of the oldest writings in the world were found. These proto-cuneiform tablets were made sometimes around 3,100 - 2,900 BC. Other early Sumerian cities are mentioned in these tablets. Here have been found world's oldest known accounting documents.
- Kish (Tell Uhaimir) - Babil. Remnants of very old city which was inhabited in the time period from 3100 BC to 650 AD. Centre of Kish civilization. Contains remnants of ziggurat. There is a wider area called Kish, enclosing remnants of several more ancient settlements.
- Lagash - Dhi Qar. Remains of ancient city which was inhabited in the 4th milleniuem BC and an important urban centre since 2600 BC. Destroyed sometimes around 2160 BC although it could be inhabited also after this. Lagash was an important centre of culture, possible centre of world's first empire.
- Larsa - Dhi Qar. Remnants of ancient Sumer city, a sacred city of Utu - god of Sun. City was an important centre sometimes around 2000 - 1600 BC. Now a large, up to 21 m tall mound remains.
- Nippur - Al-Qādisiyyah. Remains of very old city. Nippur was a sacred city - centre of Enlil cult. Founded before 2300 BC and abandoned around the 8th century BC.
- Ur - Dhi Qar. Ruins of ancient Sumerian city, former port city although now far inland. Fairly large settlement existed here already in 3600 BC, but settlement here is even much older. Major building here is Ziggurat of Ur (21st century BC). Largest city in the world sometimes around 2000 BC. Abandoned since 500 BC.
- Uruk - Muthanna. Possibly the oldest true city - metropolis in the world, developed as urban area since 4000 BC. Sometimes around 2900 BC there were some 50 - 80 thousand inhabitants. Abandoned around the 4th century AD. Notable is Eanna district - possibly the first urban area in the world, where the oldest writings in the history have been found.
Assyrian and Babylonian cities
- Ashur (Assur) - Saladin. Ruins of the ancient capital of Assyrian Empire (the 14th - 9th century BC). Development of city started in the middle of the 3rd millenium BC, in Sumerian period and it was inhabited until the 14th century AD.
- Babylon - Babil. Remains of important ancient city which was founded sometimes around 2300 BC. Babylon first flourished in the 18th century BC when it was the largest city of the world. In the 7th century BC it became a capital of Babylonian Empire and again was the largest city on Earth. Most likely abandoned in the 1st century AD.
- Dur-Sharrukin - Nineveh. Remnants of Assyrian capital. This city was built sometimes around 717 - 706 BC, in the time of Sargon II. City was enclosed in 1,759 by 1,635 m large, walled rectangle. Here were built temples, ziggurat, royal palace. Outstanding artwork has been found here including giant sculptures of lions which are up to 40 tons heavy. Capital status of Dur-Sharrukin was shortlived - in 705 BC Sargon was killed and capital moved to Nineveh.
- Nimrud (Kalhu) - Nineveh. Remnants of ancient Assyrian city. Construction of this city started sometimes around 1270 - 1260 BC and it was a capital of Assyrian Empire in the 9th - 8th century BC when it had some 75,000 - 100,000 inhabitants and for some time was world's largest city. Partly destroyed and abandoned between 616 and 605 BC. Important finds here were statue of emperor Ashurnasirpal II and giant, winged lions with human faces. These statues of lions - Lamassu - weighed up to 27 tons. In 2015 the remnants of city are deliberately bulldozed by Islamic state.
- Nineveh - Nineveh. Ancient Assyrian capital city with comparatively well preserved remnants of structures. Nineveh has been one of the most important urban centres in Mesopotamia, established around 6000 BC and abandoned sometimes around 600 AD. City was enclosed with approximately 12 km long wall. There have been excavated city gates and royal palace, many other structures and sculptures.
- Ctesiphon - Baghdad. Remains of ancient Parthian city which was founded in the 1st century BC. World's largest city in 570 - 637 AD when here lived some 500,000 people. Declined in the 7th - 8th centuries AD.
- Hatra - Nineveh. Ancient Parthian capital, founded in the 3rd century BC, flourished in the 2nd - 1st century BC. Later it became a capital of Arab Kingdom. The best preserved Parthian city, with numerous amazing structures, influenced by Greek and Roman architecture styles. In 2015 deliberately destroyed by Islamic militants.
Inhabited historical cities
- Amediye (Amedy, Amadiya) - Dohuk. This town was established in the 9th century BC and is located on a mountain plateau and until recent times was accessible only by a narrow stairway. The city is the home of Magi - priests of Ancient Persia.
- Citadel of Erbil - Erbil. A citadel - fortified hilltop town which rises 25 - 32 m above the surrounding Arbil City. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, inhabited since 6000 BC at least. The houses on the citadel though are comparatively new.
- Citadel of Kirkuk - Kirkuk. Fortified ancient part of Kirkuk on a mound which rises 40 m above the surrounding city. Current walls were built in Ottoman period.
- Samarra - Saladin. Former capital (836 - 940 AD) of Abbasid Caliphate, one of the rare Islamic cities with well preserved original planning and architecture. City has developed since the Assyrian times in the 8th - 7th century BC.
Castles and palaces
- Al-Ukhaidir Fortress - Karbala. Unusual, comparatively well preserved medieval fortress, built in 775 AD. Fotress is some 160 by 170 m large and was an important stop on regional trade routes.
- Taq-i Kisra - Baghdad. Remains of Sassanid palace near the ancient city of Ctesiphon. Built in 540 AD. Now the most impressive remaining part is giant brick arch - the largest in the world. This arch covered a giant throne room which was more than 30 m high, 24 m wide and 48 m long.
- Al-Askari Mosque - Saladin. One of most important Shī'ah mosques, built in 944 AD. Once beautiful mosque has been badly damaged by terrorists - golden dome was destroyed by bombing in 2006, golden minarets - in 2007.
- Great Mosque of al-Nuri (Mosul) - Nineveh. Old mosque which was built in 1172. Its 45 m tall minaret (Al-Hadba Minaret) is leaning and due to this this mosque is well known since the medieval times.
- Great Mosque of Kufa - Najaf. Very old mosque, first built in 670 AD. Historically important site. Now it is almost fully rebuilt, very ornate and embellished with gold.
- Great Mosque of Samarra - Saladin. Enormous mosque, completed in 851 AD. Unusual 52 metres high minaret resembling a spiralling cone. Mosque partly destroyed by terrorists in 2005.
- Imam Husayn Shrine - Karbala. The mosque was built over the grave of the second grandson of Muhammad. First built in 684 AD, it was rebuilt numerous times. Currently the mosque is plastered with gold and adorned with jewels.
- Imam Ali Mosque - Najaf. This mosque was established in 977 and contains the burial place of the cousin of Muhammad - ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib, as well as, according to Shi'a belief, Adam and Noah. The current gold-covered building was constructed shortly after 1500. It is one of most important Islam sites.
- Borsippa ziggurat (Tongue Tower) - Babil. One of the most impressive remaining ziggurats, a hill with tower-like remnant on top of it. Constructed in the late 7th - early 6th century BC. Now the ziggurat is 52 m tall, originally it was 70 m tall.
- Marduk ziggurat (Etemenanki) - Babil. Badly preserved base of enormous ziggurat, the possible Tower of Babylon. It is considered that tower was built in the 6th century BC and was 91 m tall. Tower most likely was painted in indigo color. Destroyed in 323 BC by Alexander the Great.
- Ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu (Ziggurat of Aqarquf) - Baghdad. One of the best preserved remnants of ziggurat. This shrine was built in the 14th century BC from sun dried bricks and reed mats. Ziggurat currently is some 57 m tall.
- Ziggurat of Ur - Dhi Qar. Partly rebuilt Sumerian shrine which was built in the 21st century BC. This step pyramid was more than 30 m high. It is possible that bitumen was used in construction.
- Dair Mar Elia (St. Elijah's Monastery) - Nineveh. Abandoned Christian monastery which was founded around 595 AD. Destroyed by Islamists in 2014.
- Mar Mattai monastery - Nineveh. One of the oldest existing monasteries, founded in 363 AD by hermit Mar Mattai who escaped from Roman persecutions. Monastery has library with unique values.
- Rabban Hormizd Monastery - Nineveh. Most important monastery of Chaldean Church, established in 640 AD.
- Tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (Şêx Adî) - Nineveh, Lalish. One of the main shrines of Yazidi Kurds. Adi died in 1162 and tomb with characteristic conical roofs was built soon after.
- Pira Delal - Dohuk. Ancient bridge. Originally it was built in Roman times but current structure, most likely, is younger. Bridge is 114 m long and up to 15,5 m high.
- Wadi al-Murr bridge (Aski Mosul Bridge) - Nineveh. Remnant of ancient Roman bridge - an archway over a stream.
Other man made landmarks
- Mustansiriya Madrasah - Baghdad. One of the oldest Islamic highschools, founded in 1227. Its huge library survived the Mongol invasion. The old building is very ornate.
- National Museum of Iraq - Baghdad. One of the world's most important collections of artefacts created by world's oldest civilizations. Reopened in February 2015.
- Seríserd (Qizqapan) Tomb - Sulaymaniyah. Beautiful rock cut tomb which is adorned with Hellenistic decoral elements - columns with capitals at the entrance and other features. Most likely created at the end of the 5th century AD for high ranked official in Achemenid Empire. There are also Zoroastrian elements in its design.
- Wadi al-Salam (Wadi us-Salaam) - Najaf. Largest cemetery in the world, covering more than 900 ha and some 5 million burials. Cemetery is used for some 1,400 years and here are buried several prominent people. Area is densely covered with burial shrines.
List of described attractions by governorates
Iraq is divided into 19 governorates. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:
|Nimrud||Ancient cities, Abandoned cities|
Map of Iraq
It was almost 3 millenia ago when Nimrud was a sophisticated and splendid city - the capital of the great Assyrian Empire.
Early 21st century has been shocking and sad in the history of this city - there are reports that the remnants of the city have been deliberately levelled with bulldozers in March 2015...
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This brand new edition of Bradt's unique guide to Iraq gives up-to-date travel information and also informs the armchair traveler about the history and exciting archaeological prospects of this ancient land with a rich culture. Ancient sites such as Babylon and Ur, the stunning architecture of the country's mosques, the natural beauty and wildlife of the Marshes and beautiful Iraqi handicrafts create a myriad of attractions to inspire even the most seasoned traveller.