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Erbil Citadel

Date of Submission: 08/01/2010
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization & State Board for Antiquities and Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Kurdistan Region
Coordinates: N36 11 23 E44 00 35
Ref.: 5479
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


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.

Basically, the Citadel is an elliptical shaped town covering slightly more than 10 hectares of dense fabric composed mainly of traditional courtyard houses and built in ochre-colored bricks.  In addition, there are several important public buildings such as 3 mosques, a public bath (Hammam), 7 historic graves, two gates, and several open urban spaces.  The residential quarters are reached by a labyrinthine network of narrow pedestrian alleyways which spread out in a tree-like pattern from the main Southern Gate.

Today, there are about 330 houses from a total of about 500 that possess important cultural and architectural interest. Some houses, public buildings, and urban spaces, have authentic cultural values and show remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulness in local architectural traditions.

  To walk through its meandering pedestrian alleyways and experience the exhilarating visual and spatial qualities of its traditional architecture, the Citadel is truly a remarkable human achievement.  It deserves the full support of all humanity to preserve its unique character for the enjoyment of all, and to ensure its survival for future generations.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

By and large, the Citadel Town of Erbil has maintained its overall urban form and architectural character over the past several millennia. Although, like most other historic towns, there have been some rebuilding and new additions over the years it has, nevertheless, kept its essential physical elements such as its perimeter wall, urban pattern and overall aesthetic and architectural qualities.  The Citadel is today one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites not only in the Middle East but also in the world.

In order to preserve and enhance this unique historic town the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) established the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR) in 2007.  An official agreement with Unesco was signed in September 2007 to advise the Commission on this project and to prepare a "Conservation Master Plan" for the Citadel.  It is hoped that soon the Citadel will undergo systematic and careful measures and actions for its restoration, rehabilitation, and revitalization.

Comparison with other similar properties

Although there are many fortified and military citadels in the world today, there are only a few surviving citadel towns anywhere.   Erbil Citadel is unmatched in the region not only because of its nearly 7000 years history but also because it is a town inhabited by people and not a military structure like the citadels of Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus, Amman, etc.  The only comparable town citadel in Iraq and elsewhere in the region was perhaps the citadel of Kirkuk (North of Iraq) that was, unfortunately, almost totally demolished in the late 1990s by the central government.

Thus, Erbil Citadel represents a unique example of a town that has nested on top of a hill for several millennia and has, since then, not only accumulated numerous and important archaeological layers within but also possesses a very important traditional architectural and urban heritage .  As such, it deserves to be included on the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites and hopefully, later on, on the World Heritage Sites List.