Iraq is known as the birthplace of civilization. Its landscape includes various climates, ecologies and ecosystems; making it a true beauty to behold across al 18 provinces. Whether you are traveling in the well-known and developed region of Kurdistan (Erbil), or viewing the ancient Babylonian ruins in Babyl, Iraq has something to offer across each square meter of its beautiful landscape.
Celebrated as a center of civilization, the remains of the ancient city have been nearly destroyed by greed, egoism, and war.
The ancient city was the capital of the Mesopotamian dynasties. Its final glory was as capital of the kingdom of Babylonia under King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled from 605 to 563 BCE. During his reign, most of the buildings represented by the surviving ruins were constructed, including two grand palaces. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built by Nebuchadnezzar for his wife Amytas, are remembered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He also expanded his territory by forcing thousands to relocate, starting the first exile in Jewish history. Babylon’s remains, mounds of mud-brick buildings spread over about 30 square kilometers, are in present-day Iraq, south of Baghdad
Great Mosque of Samarra
9th century Abbasid mosque, damaged in modern warfare.
Spiraling up from the ground, the remaining minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra is the the most prominent of the remaining structures of a mosque that was once the largest in the world.
Known as the malwiya or the snail shell minaret, this 180-foot tower was the main focal point of the mosque, that covered 42 acres at its peak. In the mid-9th century, the great work was commissioned by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil who allegedly rode a white donkey up the spiraling paths to the top.
An ancient fortified mound raised over the millennia from settlements built one on top of the other.
Settlements built on top of older settlements for 7,000 years have created a large elevated mound in the heart of the historical city of Erbil (also known as Hawler) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. On top of the elevated ground, Erbil Citadel stands witness to the passing of time and history.
Erbil Citadel is a fortified ovoid-shaped ancient mound. Seen from above, the mound of earth sprouts from the otherwise flat surrounding terrain. The elevation is due to millennia of settlements built one on top of the other. Dwellings were usually made of mud bricks, which in time disintegrated and contributed to heightening the overall ground of the citadel, which raised more than 100 feet over the centuries.
This beautiful arched gate is all that remains of the fortress the ancient mountaintop town of Amadiya once was.
Amadiya, in Iraqi Kurdistan, is one of those cities whose history is so long it approaches the unbelievable. It is estimated that there was a stable settlement at this site thousands of years ago, part of the Assyrian Empire. It is also said to be the birthplace of the Three Wise Men, the Biblical Magi that made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to bring presents to Jesus Christ upon his birth.
Several centuries and empires later, Amadiya was conquered by the Arabs, and in the 7th century a pasha began to be the ruler of Amadiya (or Amedi in Kurdish). It wasn’t until centuries later, during the Bahdinan Emirate (1376-1843), that Amadiya became known as a place where Muslims, Christians, and Jews could live side by side in peace. It was also during this time that the Bahdinan Gate was built.
The Tree of Knowledge
A shrine on the shores of the Tigris.
In the small southern Iraqi city of Qurna, an unusual shrine stands on the shore of the Tigris: a small, dead tree, protected by low brick walls and surrounded by a concrete plaza. This tree is, according to local legend, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the one that Eve ate from in the Garden of Eden.
Qurna (also spelled Qurnah, and pronounced “gurna”) has been noted in travelers’ accounts for centuries as the place where the great Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet and join together for a few miles before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and Euphrates are two of the four “rivers of paradise” that flowed out of the Garden of Eden, as named in Genesis 2:10-14. Elements from the early stories of Genesis have been traced to the cuneiform tablets written by the Sumerians and Babylonians, who lived in this part of the world.
Giant reed houses made in the marshes of Southern Iraq.
Pictures of Iraq in the news usually show a vast desert, hellish temperatures and images of warfare. The remainder of the country is often lost in the scramble and written off, which keeps the rest of the world from a 5,000-year-old culture that includes the majestic Mudhif houses of the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq.
With a population just under 500,000, it is understandable that the Madan people, also called Marsh Arabs, often get lost in the fracas. However, a glance into their world reveals a type of architecture that is both bizarre and wondrous. Constructed out of reeds and adobe, Mudhif houses are slightly curved communal spaces maintained by the village sheikh through a taxation system.
The Abbasid Palace, Baghdad
The last remaining Abbasid Palace in Baghdad is a historic two-story building that overlooks the Tigris river in the al-Maiden district of the city. The Abbasid dynasty ruled the Islamic empire from modern-day Baghdad from the 8th to the 13th centuries, and gave rise to the Islamic Golden Age during this time. Said to have been built during the reign of Caliph Al-Naser Ledinillah, historians allege that the structure was utilized for educational purposes due to similarities in its design to Iraq’s Al-Mustansereyya School.
Aqar Quf/ Dur-Kurigalzu
The Ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu was built around 1400 BC by King Kurigalzu of the Kassite Dynasty and is currently located 19 miles west of Baghdad. The ziggurat was built in honor of the god Enlil, and served as an important landmark for travelers nearing Baghdad. In modern times, the ziggurat stands at 57 meters tall, and has been a popular site where Baghdadi families go to leisure.
Kirkuk Citadel and Daniel’s Tomb
At the center of Kirkuk, a historically ethnically diverse city located in Iraqi Kurdistan, lies the Kirkuk Citadel established around 880 BC. Allegedly built by King Ashurnasirpal II for defense purposes and then later reinforced with 72 towers under King Sluks’ rule, the citadel sits on top a 130-foot-high mound. Within the citadel, one can experience its many colorful gems, such as the “Red Church, the Green Dome Mosque, and the blue-tiled Tomb of Daniel.