Essential Architecture-  Iraq

The ancient citadel of Arbil.




The city lies eighty kilometres (fifty miles) east of Mosul, and is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.


Mentioned in Ancient Assyrian texts (1365-612 BC), the town (and Citadel) has been in the possession of some of the greatest kingdoms in history, including the Sumerian and Babylonian.




Its longer dimension (east-west axis) is about 430 meters long and its shorter one (north-south axis) is about 340 meters long. It encloses an area slightly more than 10 hectares. The slope, which surrounds the citadel all around, is earthen and steeply inclines between 35 to 60 degrees. The slope is steeper on the North-western side than other sides.


  The Citadel of Arbil (Arabic: قلعة أربيل; Kurdish: Qelay Hewlêr) is a tell or occupied mound, and the historical city centre of Arbil in Iraq. It has been claimed that the site is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world.

The earliest evidence for occupation of the citadel mound dates to the 5th millennium BC, and possibly earlier. It appears for the first time in historical sources during the Ur III period, and gained particular importance during the Neo-Assyrian period. During the Sassanian period and the Abbasid Caliphate, Arbil was an important centre for Christianity. After the Mongols captured the citadel in 1258, the importance of Arbil declined. During the 20th century, the urban structure was significantly modified, as a result of which a number of houses and public buildings were destroyed. In 2007, the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR) was established to oversee the restoration of the citadel. In the same year, all inhabitants, except one family, were evicted from the citadel as part of a large restoration project. Since then, archaeological research and restoration works have been carried out at and around the tell by various international teams and in cooperation with local specialists. The government plans to have 50 families live in the citadel once it is renovated.

The buildings on top of the tell stretch over a roughly oval area of 430 by 340 metres (1,410 × 1,120 ft) occupying 102,000 square metres (1,100,000 sq ft). The only religious structure that currently survives is the Mulla Afandi Mosque. The mound rises between 25 and 32 metres (82 and 105 ft) from the surrounding plain. When it was fully occupied, the citadel was divided in three districts or mahallas: from east to west the Serai, the Takya and the Topkhana. The Serai was occupied by notable families; the Takya district was named after the homes of dervishes, which are called takyas; and the Topkhana district housed craftsmen and farmers.
Erbil Citadel Town, which is situated dramatically on top of an artificial, 32-meters high earthen mound, and visually dominating the expansive modern city of Erbil, is believed to have been in continuous existence for 7000 years or even more. Thus, it may be regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. Because of its past fortifications and steeply inclined mound, which is at some locations nearly 45 degrees, it has managed to survive numerous sieges and fierce attacks. The existing fabric, however, goes back to several hundred years but is, nevertheless, of extreme vernacular architectural and urban interest, not only for Iraq but also for humanity at large.

Several theories have been put forward to how the Citadel and its 32m height were created:

1. Gradual Accumulation:
That the mound represents a gradual accumulation of historical settlement layers, rising slowly to reach its present height of some 30 meters. If one assumes that the age of the citadel is around 6000 years then this means that its height has been rising at the rate of 1 meter every 200 years.

2. Assyrian Settlement:
That it may have been an Assyrian settlement with a ziggurat in the middle surrounded by temples. And that when it was destroyed and abandoned, it turned into a heap of ruin..

3. Man-Made Mound:
That the mound was artificially created by people who desired to live in this fertile land but needed a fortified site.

4. Natural Mound:
That the mound was a natural one, perhaps a few meters high and risen gradually by human habitation. The flat land geography of the area, however, makes this proposition unlikely.

The Czech News Agency has reported that archaeologists have found remains of an about 150,000-year-old prehistoric settlement in Arbil, north Iraq, which has been the so far oldest uncovered in this part of northern Mesopotamia.
The archaeologists revealed a high number of items, mainly prehistoric stone tools, about nine metres under the ground in Arbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, said archaeologist Karel Novacek, from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen.

In the citadel.
The mud-brick citadel of Arbil rises on a mound at the center of the city's concentric street circles, and was, until recent construction began obstructing the view, a near constant reminder that Arbil has been here a long time.

Arbil may or may not be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world -- there are lots of run-down towns in the Middle East claiming that mantle -- but it was certainly here before Iraq ever was, before the Kurds, before Islam, before even monotheism arrived on the scene. I've been told that Arbil's name is derived from some ancient semitic word for the number four (in Arabic that's "Arbara" ) a reference either to a group of four pagan gods worshiped here, or to one four-headed god in the local pagan pantheon.

The secular but non-pagan Kurdish government has begun renovating the citadel, hauling out truckload after truckload of muck and midden that had accumulated over the years like a glacial moraine. An unfortunate side effect is that for perhaps the first time in its long history the ancient fortress is now uninhabited. The most recent residents -- many of whom were Kurdish refugees from one or another of the region's conflicts -- received compensation from the government for departing.

Even empty of living souls, the citadel is worth a visit if only to catch a glimpse of why Arbil is where it is. The city holds a commanding position just below the mountainous juncture of three historical hotspots: Turkey's Anatolian peninsula, the Persian plateau, and the Mesopotamian river valley that drops down to the south. Then as now, Arbil is a small city filled with people trying to survive great events.

The citadel also contains another reminder of the ebb and flow of culture: a museum devoted to preserving Kurdish tribal textiles, mainly rugs. It is the personal obsession of one Kurd, Lolan Mustefa, who began buying old Kurdish rugs in 1992 while he was living in Sweden. He started the museum three years ago as a way to house his collection, and hopefully as a center for encouraging a Kurdish weaving renaissance. He's been locating old looms, and hiring Kurdish weavers from Iran to make make the old Kurdish patterns once more.

Rug making culture disappeared in Kurdistan with the destruction of Kurdish nomadic herding life and the tribal women who wove. Thanks to war, genocide, war again, and the residue of war -- the high mountain grazing lands where Iran and Iraq fought in the 1980's are still littered with land mines -- there are just three fully nomadic tribes left in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Mustefa. And what war started, the modern economy will finish. In handful of years, he said, there will be no more nomads in the mountains of Iraq.

--Andrew Lee Butters/Arbil

Read more:
Under the Old Neighborhood: In Iraq, an Archaeologist's Paradise
NY Times ^ | August 23, 2005 | JAMES GLANZ

Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2005 2:28:43 PM by neverdem

ERBIL, Iraq - If a neighborhood is defined as a place where human beings move in and never leave, then the world's oldest could be here at the Citadel, an ancient and teeming city within a city girded by stone walls.

Resting on a layer cake of civilizations that have come and gone for an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 years, the Citadel looms over the apartment blocks of this otherwise rather gray metropolis in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The settlement rivals Jericho and a handful of other famous towns for the title of the oldest continuously inhabited site in the world. The difference is that few people have heard of the Citadel outside Iraq. And political turmoil has prevented a full study of its archaeological treasures.

While there may be confirmed traces of more ancient settlements in Iraq, said McGuire Gibson, a Mesopotamian archaeologist at the University of Chicago, the people have all vanished from those places.

"The thing about Erbil is that it is, in fact, a living town," Dr. Gibson said. "It goes back at least to 5,000 B.C.," he said. "It might go back further."

Among the peoples that have lived in this neighborhood are the Hassuna, Akkadians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Parthians and Abbasids.

In 1964, when Kanaan Rashad Mufti and his prominent family were part of the neighborhood, a floor in his father's house, near the mosque, collapsed during some renovations.

Underneath was a whole series of rooms from some previous civilization, possibly the Abbasids, said Mr. Mufti, who is now director of antiquities in western Kurdistan. There is nothing that Iraqi archaeologists would like more than to begin systematic digs through those layers, said Donny George, director of the Baghdad Museum.

"I have so much in mind," Dr. George said, expressing scientific eagerness "to make..."

(Excerpt) Read more at ...