Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Visitors return to Hatra, Iraq’s ancient city ravaged by Isis

Monday 12/September/2022 - 03:55 PM
The Reference

The ancient city of Hatra in northern Iraq have welcomed back tourists five years after the defeat of Islamic State, which used it as a training base for two years and left it seriously damaged.

With remains dating back to the second and third centuries BC, Hatra has undergone a revival since being added to Unesco’s world heritage in danger list. Edifices and depictions of deities such as the sun god Shamash and the goddess Allat were used by Isis fighters for target practice during their occupation from 2015.

Recaptured in 2017 by Iraqi forces and the US-led international coalition, it has been a priority conservation project, with Italian and Iraqi experts working on it. Three severely damaged sculptures were removed for renovation before being returned this year. At the weekend Mosul Heritage House, a private museum, brought dozens of tourists to what is one of the country’s most important historical sites.

Hatra, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul, was a sprawling complex of 200ft columns and temples. It was a site of worship to Shamash, built by the Seleucid dynasty established by Seleucus I, one of Alexander the Great’s generals.

A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab kingdom, Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans in AD116 and AD198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, especially the temples, featured Hellenistic and Roman architecture blended with eastern decorative features.

It was one of many sites to suffer under Isis control across the region, including the Syrian city of Palmyra and the Iraqi site of Nimrud.

Saturday’s tour, the first of its kind organised by Mosul Heritage House, was designed to boost tourism in the area. Forty visitors, most of them Iraqis, were allowed to walk around the site at twilight, with some posing for pictures on top of the ancient walls and columns. The initiative aims to “showcase the heritage and identity” of Mosul and the broader Nineveh province, according to Fares Abdel Sattar, a 60-year-old engineer.

The restoration was supported by the Aliph Foundation, which works to protect sites of cultural heritage in conflict areas.