Even though most travelers are attracted to Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq, for business, shopping and entertainment reasons, the majority of them spare some of their precious time to visit the Ancient Erbil Citadel which lies in the centre of the old city.
A visit to the Citadel is a trip to the distant past of the Mesopotamia region which is the cradle of life in the Middle East. The Citadel was built on a 32-meter high artificial mound about 6000 years ago, but some archeologists believe that the settlement can be as old as 7000 years. The height of the Citadel protected it against enemy attacks and helped it survive throughout the centuries, but it must have taken years of tremendous effort of a large number of people for the mound to be erected.
The citadel colors covers an area just over 10 hectares, it has an elliptical shape and consists of three different districts: the Serai, the Topkhana and the Takya. The Serai was a neighborhood for the richest and most prominent families in the town, the Topkhana was the neighborhood of the farmers and the craftsmen, and the Takya was the part of the town which took its name from the word “takya” that meant the home of the dervish.
In the past there were about 500 traditional courtyard houses all built with yellow-ochre bricks showing the architectural ingenuity of its first inhabitants. The winding network of alleyways of the Citadel allowed the inhabitants to move about their small town easily. Originally there was only one gate to the city on the southern side, but today there are two more gates on the northern and on the eastern part of the settlement.
Both the architectural style and the layout of the houses remind of the style of buildings in Mosul. Additionally, the way the inside of the houses is designed, the colors used on walls, doors and windows, as well as the paintings on the ceilings show strong influences from the nearby Middle Eastern towns.
Because the town has been inhabited by different people over the years, several changes were made to improve the functionality of the residential buildings, but these changes didn’t have any major negative effects on the original architectural style of the Erbil Citadel. Today, the visitor to this ancient little town can also see several open public areas as well as public buildings, such as 3 mosques, a hammam, and several historic graves.
The outer ring wall of the settlement is consisted of more than 100 houses and they are the ones that give the wall the look of an ancient fortress. However, because these outer houses were the target of various attacks, either from enemies who tried to invade the town or from the elements of nature, they suffered serious damage. Because several of these outer houses collapsed in the last decades, the whole of the settlement was at risk.
Restoration and Revitalization of Erbil Citadel
As time and human activity had taken their toll on the ancient Citadel, both the World Monument Fund and UNESCO included this historic place in their lists of the most endangered old cities in the world. Together with the local Kurdish government, they have taken action to preserve this unique cultural place which reflects the past of human civilization and is an archeological attraction to anyone who is interested in history, culture, and human achievements.
With the assistance of the Kurdistan Regional Government the inhabitants of the Citadel were evacuated (except one family) and moved to a special area in the south-eastern part of Erbil which they named New Citadel of Erbil. Even though restoration work on most buildings is in progress, visitors can still have a tour of the ancient Citadel where they can see its main attractions, such as the mosques and the public baths, and enjoy a fantastic view of the whole city. On the Citadel, they can also visit the Kurdish Textile Museum and buy gifts for friends and family from the souvenir shop.
When restoration works are over, the Erbil Citadel will be a unique cultural and archeological site which will give its visitors an insight in the history of one of the oldest settlements in the world and the development of civilization in the area.