The Watch

Erbil Citadel

Erbil, Iraq

An Ancient Wonder 

Settled more than 6,000 years ago, Erbil Citadel is thought to be one of the longest continuously inhabited sites in the world. The Citadel, which rises some 30 meters above the plain, is surrounded by a lower town that developed in the modern city of Erbil. It was an important center in the Neo-Assyrian period, especially under the reign of King Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.). Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III on the plains surrounding Erbil in 331 B.C., in one of the most famous battles of antiquity. In the Medieval period, the city was home to important poets, historians and scholars, and later served as a cultural and administrative center in the Ottoman Empire. Today, as the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Erbil remains very much a living city. Decades of civil unrest however, have taken their toll on the ancient Citadel buildings, many of which still lack electricity and proper drainage and sanitation systems. The recent developments in Iraq bring with them an opportunity through which conservation work and repair of the Citadel might begin. However, funds and technical assistance are critical to the future of the city of Erbil as a whole.

A World Heritage Site 

In 2010, the Citadel was inscribed in the Iraq's Tentative World Heritage List, following the allocation of more than $13 million in public funds for the preservation of the site. In 2007, the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR) was established. Since then, UNESCO and various other foreign institutions have collaborated with HCECR for an overall preservation and rehabilitation project of the Citadel. To permit the execution of such a broad project, the majority of the population of the Citadel was moved out. Among the achievements since the creation of HCECR are the restoration of various houses, the preparation of a site management plan, and the establishment of buffer zones in the lower town. The Textile Museum was reopened in 2014 after preservation work completed, and the Erbil office of the Institut Français du Proche Orient (Ifpo) is now based in the restored Chalabi house. The first systematic archaeological excavations at the Citadel started in 2013. In 2014, the Erbil Citadel became a World Heritage Site. The Citadel is now accessible to the public and in recent years, it has become a popular destination for locals and tourists arriving from other regions of Iraq.

Since the Watch

Erbil Citadel was included on the 2000, 2002, and 2004 World Monuments Watch to raise awareness of the urgent need to preserve and protect the site after decades of civil unrest and general deterioration. In cooperation with HCECR, WMF began in 2019 two new projects with a master plan to repopulate the citadel with new activities: the restoration of the hammam and the restoration of the Heritage Building complex for the possible installation of a Children's Interpretation Center. Work to restore the Heritage Building complex was completed in late 2020, while work on the hammam is ongoing. 

Last updated: February 2021.

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