Erbil is the fourth largest city in Iraq after Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. The city is located in Iraqi Kurdistan. It lies 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Mosul, and is the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Urban life in Erbil (Hewler) can be dated back to at least 6000 BC, and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Arbil. In the early part of the 3rd Millennium BC, the Hurrians from Asia Minor were the first to establish Urbilum and expand their rule to parts of northern Mesopotamia.
Erbil became an integral part of Assyria from the 25th century BC to the 7th century AD, but after it lost its independence at the end of the 7th century BC, both Assyria and the city of Erbil came under the rule of many regional powers, including; the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians and Greeks. Following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia, the Arabs dissolved Assyria (then known as Assuristan/Athura) as a geo-political entity in the mid-7th century AD, and during Medieval times the city came to be ruled by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks. Erbil’s archaeological museum houses a large collection of pre-Islamic artifacts, and is a center for archaeological projects in the area.
The Kurdistan region of Iraq can be reached by direct flights to Erbil International Airport (EIA).
Erbil Archaeological Museum
Located in the city center, opposite City Hall, the museum is divided into three sections and artifacts all are exhibited chronologically, according to era. The origin of some exhibits goes back to 5,000 B.C.; the collection offers an insight into the ancient culture and traditions of Kurdistan and Iraq An extensive library, one of the most prestigious historical libraries in the city, is next door to the museum.
Erbil Citadel represents a distinct urban entity and should be treated as such. It is not simply an agglomeration of a number of houses and other buildings located within a complex system of narrow alleyways. The citadel is the unique heritage of human experience and genius of thousands of years. It tells the story of how hundreds of past generations interacted with their natural environment and how they developed their way of life based on their cultural norms and values. Therefore, any attempt to conserve and develop this citadel should deal with it not as the sum of individual parts but as a total environment. There are so many lessons, both historical and architectural, that can be learned from this town. Its remaining buildings, houses, and urban spaces and features, represent an extremely valuable and irreplaceable cultural resource that should not be allowed to disappear forever. Recently, the citadel has been included as one of the 100 most endangered cultural sites in the world by the World Monument Fund (WMF) in New York. In 2014, it was placed on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Before the advent of modernization in the 1930s, the citadel consisted largely of traditional courtyard houses- just over 500 in all. Of these there were some 30 or so large palace-like houses that were mostly located on the peripheral wall but some were inside the town proper. The outer wall of the citadel is perhaps its single most important feature and is one of the most impressive found anywhere. It is this perimeter wall which surrounds the town that gives it its fortified look and dominates the modern City of Erbil. The wall is a continuous ring of about a hundred houses of various vintages.
Erbil Citadel Mosque
The first mosque to be built on its grounds, the Citadel Mosque is located in the center of the Citadel. Yaqout Hamawi mentioned it in 1220 A.D. in his book “The Compendium of Countries.” Ibn Mustawfi referred to it as the Fortress Mosque in his book “The History of Erbil.” The Citadel Mosque was renovated several times. In its Mihrab (prayer niche), an inscription points to its renovation and rehabilitation in 1719- 1720 A.D. under the supervişion of Abo Bakr Ben Mulla Omar.
The Citadel Bath (Hamam)
The Citadel Hamam is more than 200 and dates back to the 18th years old century. It consists of two main sections: one for use in summer and the other for winter. Two large domes top the hamam’s two bathing halls. On the north side of the bath is a 45 m deep well that reaches all the way to the base of the Citadel. In 1979, the bath was renovated and restored.
The Qaisary bazaar is located southeast of the Erbil Citadel, opposite its main gate. It was constructed at the time of the Ottomans and was built in the form of a bow, with many long corridors, each lined with shops. The Kurdistan Regional Government recently renovated the bazaar, revitalizing the busy commercial area. Tourists visit the Qaisary bazaar to buy presents and food, and to enjoy its attractive surroundings.
Qalinj Agha Hill
Qalinj Agha Hill is an important archaeological site located in the center of Erbil. Its name is derived from “Qala Anje’, which means The Small Mound’, in contrast to the huge Erbil Citadel lying one kilometer away. Qalinj Agha Hill is only 7 m high. The archaeological excavations that were first undertaken in 1966 determined that Qalinj Agha Hill had been the site of several historical inhabitations. These periods during the fourth and fifth millennia B.C were known as the Hulf-Warka era.
Choli Minaret is one of Erbil city’s most famous landmarks. Built in 1128-1138 A.D., during the rule of Sultan Mudhaffar al-Din Called, it is also known as al-Mudhafariah Minaret. Local inhabitants refer to it as ‘Choli’ because it was far from the city. A truly fascinating experience for visitors interested in local history.
Kurdish Textile Museum
The museum is located inside the Erbil Citadel and exhibits artifacts that demonstrate Kurdistan’s ancient traditions of spinning and weaving. Exhibits include carpets, clothing, raw materials, and wool dyed naturally using wild plants and flowers.
Khanzad Castle is situation 22 km from Erbil, on the road between Erbil and Shaqlawa. Constructed during the Soran Emirate in the 16th century under the rule of Princess Khanzad and her brother Prince Suleiman Beg, the citadel is about 40m tall and sits atop a small hill. The castle has kept much of its original shape and has four round towers at each of its four corners; made of stones and gypsum, it is a stunning archaeological site.
Dairei Citadel dates back to the reign of Prince Muhammad (1813–1837) in the 19th century. Situated high on a hill in the western edge of the Permam Mountains, Dairei is 38 km from Erbil, on the Erbil-Darabizmar road. A thick defense wall, containing several slits through which inhabitants could shoot at oncoming attackers, originally surrounded the citadel and some of its structure is still visible.
Dween Castle is located 56 km northwest of Erbil city and 22 km southeast of Pirmam. The castle, which served as a military fort in the past, is an interesting archaeological site. Built on a hill and located on a strategic and old route, the remains of some of the castle’s guard towers are still visible. Dween Castle is thought to belong to the Soran Emirate (1837-1813), although some sources say it dates back to the period of Salahaddin’s grandfather (1193-1138). An ancient graveyard east of the castle many tall, inscribed tombstones, the contains history of which remains unknown.
Citadel of Amadiyya
Its gate was known as (Mosul Gate) or (Sqafa Gate) or (Sinjar Gate), and there are two rocks in the form of human with features of the Ashobi animal in between. According to the archeologists, these rocks have been found during the time of (Ashkanyan) (Part-Alfrtheon), but the historian (Anwar Mayee) in his book (Kurds in Bahdinan) in Amadiya region, has written more about how old these civilizations are, he also adds that Amadiya or (Median Buiding) or (Median) Governorate were two light words and became Amadiya. This region became known by such name in Pre-Islam Era and it was famous by then, besides it was older than Nineveh Governorate, which was the Assyrian Capital. This Governorate is the nearest one to (Shander) which many archaeological sites and human skeletons were found belonging to (75000) years BC.
Lonesome Boya Temple
Lonesome Boya Temple is located on the main road between Shaqlawa and Hiran, alongside Safeen Mountain, 46 km from Erbil, in a valley overlooking Shaqlawa. A paved road takes visitors most of the way but they have to walk the last stretch to reach the temple. The shrine is set in a cave, and consists of two large rooms and some smaller ones. The Muslim community knows the temple as Wusu Rahman, while Christians call it Raban Buya, or Lonesome Boya. The temple is a sacred site for both communities and they visit at different times of the year for prayer and festivities. Christian pilgrims from across Iraq visit Lonesome Boya every year immediately after Easter.
The Lalesh Temple
The Lalesh Temple is the holiest place on Earth for the Yazidis. They believe that it is the place where Noah’s ark docked after the great flood and life began again. Thousands of Yezidis from all over the world go on pilgrimages to the Lalesh temple to drink the holy spring water. It is also the site of the Yezidis annual spring celebration on the first Wednesday of every March. Lalesh is open to people of any and all religions for prayer and visit.