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Islamic State ⟞molishes' ancient Hatra site in Iraq
A tourism and antiquities ministry official said the extent of the damage at the Unesco world heritage site was unclear, but he had received reports that it had been demolished.
Hatra was founded in the days of the Parthian Empire over 2,000 years ago.
Militants have recently bulldozed ruins at the Assyrian city of Nimrud and destroyed museum artefacts in Mosul.
IS, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, says shrines and statues are "false idols" that have to be smashed.
Unesco condemned the destruction of the ancient city and said that it showed the "contempt" that IS has for the history and heritage of the Arab people.
"The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing under way in Iraq," said Unesco head Irina Bokova in a statement on Saturday.
Hatra, located about 110km (68 miles) south-west of Mosul, was a fortified city that withstood invasions by the Romans thanks to its thick walls reinforced by towers.
It is home to numerous temples and sculptures dedicated to gods including Apollo and Poseidon.
Said Mamuzini, a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) local official, said the militants had used explosives to blow up buildings and were bulldozing other sections.
"The city of Hatra is very big and many artefacts of that era were protected inside the site," he said, adding that the militants had already taken away gold and silver.
One official told the Associated Press that residents in the area had heard two powerful explosions.
The Iraq Museum in Baghdad
One of the projects carried out by the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l'Asia in years 2000-2013 was the restoration of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. As the most important artefacts of Mesopotamian culture found so far are preserved for the most part in the Iraq Museum, not only in the exhibition halls but especially in its immense storerooms, which contain an enormous number of artefacts of great historical significance, it is easy to understand the cultural importance of the work.
The project also included the restoration of seriously damaged pieces, which was conducted by Italian restorers, some of them belonging to the Central Restoration Institute and to the Archeological Local Authorities of Piedmont.
The project was prepared jointly with Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (Research, Innovation and Organization Area), and was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Direction General for the Mediterranean and Middle East), by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (Research, Innovation and Organization Area), and by the Fondazione Banca Nazionale delle Comunicazioni.
The history of the Museum
The Iraq Museum was built by Faisal I in 1923, shortly after the monarchy was established in Iraq (1921) after the fall of the Ottoman Empire that followed World War I. The museum’s actual promoter was British scholar Gertrude Bell, technical adviser to the British protectorate, who was a personal friend of the king. In 1927 the museum had its first stable premises in Baghdad, where its 19th century collections were preserved. Archaeological research in Mesopotamia increased at that time, also favoured by the possibility of portioning out “duplicate or analogous” material found in the new excavations, as allowed by the law on antiquities of 1924, which remained in effect until 1967 (inalienability, however, was established by law in 1974).
Thus, a true archaeological boom that lasted until the end of the 1930s took place. British, American, German and French institutions began new excavations (Nineveh, Ur, Tell Ubaid, Kish, Jemdet Nasr, Khorsabad, Tepe Gawra, Nuzi, Uruk, Tello, Seleucia, Ctesiphon) that laid the groundwork for gaining knowledge on the Mesopotamian civilization, and made it possible to enlarge the collections of western museums. Italy, with a very brief Florentine mission, was present in Kakzu. As a result, the Iraq Museum also benefited, so much that in 1932 it was decided to enlarge it and the construction of its new (current) premises, designed by German architect Werner March, began in 1940. In the meantime, in 1937 the Museum of Arab Antiquities, which was absorbed by the new museum that finally opened in 1966, was established in a historical building of Baghdad. World War II did not disrupt the activities on the ground, thanks to the first Iraqi excavations (‘Aqar Quf, Eridu), followed in the post-war period by the new excavations in Nippur, Nimrud and Uruk a series of conservative excavations for the creation of water basins were also inaugurated in Tharthar, Demberke-Khan and Dokan.
The 1960s also saw missions from Russia, Japan and Turin take part in the excavations in Mesopotamia. From the 1970s, fourteen new provincial museums with educational functions and representing the entire panorama of Mesopotamian civilization were established, and new international conservative excavations for the creation of more dams (Hamrin, Haditha, Eski Mosul) were also inaugurated.
The reconstruction of the Museum’s restoration laboratories
As a response to the most urgent requests made by the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage after the war in March 2003, the works in the Iraq Museum started with the reconstruction of the restoration laboratories, looted and irreparably damaged in April 2003, which were reorganized in a different wing of the Museum. The new laboratories, completely furnished and equipped with equipment and basic materials sent from Italy, were inaugurated in March 2004, and training courses for 14 new Iraqi restorers begun. The project was implemented jointly with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, acting through its Central Restoration Institute. Under the supervision of Italian experts, who worked from April to June 2004, the objects most subject to decay were recovered from the various deposits of the Iraq Museum.
Upon indication of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq and with the cooperation of the 14 Iraqi restoration trainees, materials chosen on the basis of their specific didactic significance and of the seriousness of their state of conservation were treated. Restoration was therefore performed on a group of limestone and alabaster statues from Hatra. A specific treatment concerned some of the orthostats of the so-called Assyrian room, through the inspection and partial reconstruction of the old integrations with appropriate materials. The activities that concerned the stone artefacts culminated in the restoration of the head from Warka and with the cleaning and assembly, taking care not to damage the historically documented plaster relief integrations, of the numerous fragments of the Warka vase, which had been looted and subsequently returned. Unfortunately, the reconstruction of the valuable document could not be completed. Recovery works continued with the recomposition of the fragments of one of the terracotta lions from Tell Harmal. Several ivory artefacts from Nimrud, found in a store room that had been flooded several times, were also treated. Some of these items were cleaned and disinfested.
In addition to the restoration of heavily damaged artefacts, the treatments also enabled the trainees to learn the main restoration techniques and the use of the most recent conservation materials.
Restoration training in Amman (Jordan)
Due to the precarious security conditions in Iraq, restoration training courses were subsequently moved to Amman, at the local Department of Antiquities (Dec. 2004 – Feb. 2005). Availing themselves of the opportunity of working on archaeological materials originating from illegal excavations in Iraq, the 14 Iraqi trainees, in addition to continuing their theoretical training, had the chance to continue their actual restoration training. On this occasion it was also possible to catalogue these objects through the creation of another database (B.R.I.L.A. Jordan). The filed archaeological artefacts were published in the book An endangered cultural heritage: Iraqi antiquities recovered in Jordan (Monografie di Mesopotamia, VII, ed. by R. Menegazzi).
The purpose of the courses, which were held at the local Restoration Centre, was that of teaching the basic notions of archaeological restoration, both theoretical (technology and restoration of pottery, glass, metal, ivory) and practical (pottery, stone). The course was completed by lessons on the history of restoration and on Mesopotamian art history and archaeology from prehistoric times to the Ottoman period. Thirteen experts from Italy and one from Jordan trained 14 Iraqis the course was also followed by six Jordanians who attended as auditors. Thanks to additional funding provided by UNESCO, it was possible to integrate the activities in Jordan with a specific course on the emergency conservation (first-aid conservation) of objects in their journey from the excavation to the laboratory.
The Jordanian authorities in charge, and specifically Dr. Fawaz Khraisheh, General Director of the Department of Antiquities gave this project all of their moral and logistical support.
The reopening of the Iraq Museum
The project of reopening a part of the Iraq Museum galleries, where unmovable objects are still exhibited, has been envisaged, with the favour of the museum authorities and the support of the Italian government, since autumn 2003. The work for the new Assyrian and Islamic galleries – planned by arch. Roberto Parapetti for the Centro Scavi of Torino and entrusted to a local contractor (Consultant Engineering of Baghdad) – started in spring 2006. After long logistic interruption for security reasons, it was completed in November 2008.
In the Assyrian gallery, where samples of monumental sculpture from Khorsabad and Nimrud are exhibited, a new lighting system and a new architectural contextualization were installed. In the Islamic gallery new partition walls were planned to better organize the chronology and the geography of the architectural pieces exhibited. Samples of the statuary form Hatra and educational aids for the explanation of the entire archaeological panorama of Mesopotamian Iraq will be exhibited in the museum’s main courtyard.
The project received financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Direction General for the Mediterranean and Middle East), the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (Research, Innovation and Organization Area) and the Fondazione Banca Nazionale delle Comunicazioni.
A new project, started in 2012, foresaw the outfitting of the so-called Middle Assyrian Gallery, where the main finds from Nimrud – together with other Assyrian objects dating from the half of the 2nd millennium and the 1st millennium BC. The works were planned by arch. Gianluca Capri and entrusted to the company Consultant Engineering, owned by eng. Ala‘ Anbaki. The windows of the hall were framed by opaque glasses, and a new contextualization of the objects was given, thanks to adequate cases and exhibition setting. The most delicate action was the movement and the new setting of the two human-headed bulls from Nimrud, weighing more than 5 tons each, that were previously on display in another aisle of the Museum. The educational tools include an illuminated timeline and many explanatory panels, both in Arabic and in English, on the site of Nimrud. A corner of the gallery has been equipped with a screen and a digital projector.
The works, which ended in November 2013, were entirely funded by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage. The Italian Embassy in Baghdad and the Italian Institute for the Conservation and Restoration (ISCR) greatly contributed to the success of the project. Now we can proudly say that the new outfitting of almost all the ground floor of the Iraq Museum was realized thanks to the Italian contribution.
In March 2015 the Museum has officially re-opened, giving to schools and private visitors the chance to admire the priceless artefacts from ancient Mesopotamia.
"Destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the cultural cleansing underway in iraq" say heads of UNESCO and ISESCO
Since the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, in addition to the tragic loss of human life and the humanitarian crisis associated to the persecution of cultural and religious minorities, cultural heritage has been the target of intentional destruction, with the aim of erasing the history of the country and thus undermining the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities.
Attacks against the culture of Iraq have seen in recent days a dramatic escalation. Following the brutal destructions of many invaluable cultural items at the Mosul Museum and the bulldozing of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, official sources today reported the destruction of the World Heritage property of Hatra, a large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire, the capital of the first Arab kingdom, and bearing the roots of islamic Arab cities.
“The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq” said the Director General of UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova, and Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in a joint statement. "This is a direct attack against the history of Islamic arab cities, and it confirms the role of destruction of heritage in the propaganda of extremists groups."
“With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, Daesh shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people, which had been rightly recognized as a World Heritage site”.
"UNESCO and ISESCO are fully mobilized to respond to this emergency and stand ready to assist the Iraqi authorities in any possible way,” stated Mrs Bokova and Dr. Altwaijri.
Gertrude Bell and Hatra, Iraq
Photograph depicting a detail of a lintel in room 10 of the summer palace at Hatra, Iraq.
Here at the V&A we have recently found a small number of photographs taken by the writer, archaeologist, and political administrator Gertrude Bell. These came to light when the recent destruction of Iraqi cultural sites prompted us to look through our collection to discover if we had any images of the places which have been damaged or destroyed. These photographs show the ancient palace of Hatra, which was built over two thousand years ago by the Seleucid Empire, and which was damaged to an as yet unknown extent on the 7th March 2015.
Photograph depicting the doorway to room 5 at the ruins of the summer palace at Hatra, Iraq. 1662-1912
Photograph depicting sculpted faces in the north wall of the south liwan at the ruins in Hatra, Iraq.
What comes across strongly in accounts about Gertrude Bell is that she was confident and intrepid individual. On a mountain face, or in a desert sandstorm, or at a meeting with royalty, she was sure enough of herself, her position in the world, and her knowledge, to survive unharmed. The daughter of a wealthy industrial family, she had the financial support to embark on her many travels, and sufficient intelligence and fierceness to sidestep traditional female roles of the time. We know a lot about her due to her large collection of diaries, letters, books, articles, and photographs, most of which are now held at the University of Newcastle .
Photograph depicting a settlement with horses and piles of supplies in the ruins of Hatra, Iraq.
Gertrude Bell took these photographs with her plate camera in 1911, on her third major journey across the Middle East. At the point these were taken, Gertrude was 43, and had already published several books, travelled extensively in Iran, Turkey, Syria and Palestine, and had recorded ten mountaineering first ascents in the Bernese Alps. She had a first class degree from Oxford in Modern History, but had learnt how to undertake archaeological research from experts she met in the field, such as D.G. Hogarth and Sir William M. Ramsay. She therefore quickly learnt how to analyse sites and record findings accurately via notes, drawings, and photographs such as these, and she also became a skilled cartographer. It was during this period that London museums were encouraging explorers and archaeologists to take papier mâché moulds of historic carvings and sculptures, so that they could be brought back to England and plaster casts could be made from the moulds. Gertrude Bell also learnt this skill, and we have some casts made by her in our stores.
Photograph depicting the south facade of building D in the ruins of Hatra, Iraq.
After the trip in 1911, when these photographs were taken, Gertrude went on to undertake another major journey across the Middle East to Ha’il. On the outbreak of Word War I she first worked in the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Department of the Red Cross in Paris, then was summoned to Cairo to work for the newly formed ‘Arab Bureau’. The Bureau came to rely on her expert knowledge of the local tribes and geography of the area. The stated British policy aim at this post was to engender an Arab uprising against the Turks, in order to undermine their support of Germany and thereby assist the war effort. The British promised independent Arab rule in exchange for the tribes uniting to fight the Turks, but many British diplomats privately were of the opinion that independent rule was not possible. Gertrude, however, felt this was both achievable and desirable, and did all she could over the next six years to create that eventuality. By 1921, her extraordinary efforts paid off, and the state of Iraq was formed under King Faisal I. Gertrude’s role in this cannot be underestimated. Her writings show an abiding love of the area and people, as her curiosity meant that she met and formed friendships with many tribal leaders, sheikhs, and people from all walks of life in the Arab world, and was able to gain unprecedented access -this knowledge was key in her later political work.
Photograph depicting the south wall of the north liwan at the summer palace at Hatra, Iraq.
In 1922, she was made ‘Director of Antiquities’ in Iraq, and in this role she came to create the Iraq Museum, and was able to return to her love of archaeology. She was one of the Art Advisors on Mesopotamian archaeology to the V&A and the British Museum, and she was instrumental in the small finds from Ernst Herzfeld’s excavations at Samarra being shipped to London. (These are still actively being studied today, and you can find out more about recent research here).
Bell died on the 12th of July, 1926, and was buried in the British cemetery in Baghdad.
Though well-known in her lifetime, Bell’s fame was later eclipsed by her colleague T.E Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’). In recent years, however, interest in her has resurfaced, with several biographies being published, and a forthcoming film about her being released by director Werner Herzog. Interest in her scholarly output has also been increasing, given the current risks to many of the sites she recorded in the Middle East.
Her life story is an adventurous one, and well worth investigating in more detail than I am able to cover here. As well as the recent sources above, many of her own books remain in print. (You can visit the National Art Library to read the original editions). You can view the photographs by Bell we have in the V&A’s collection by making an appointment to visit the Prints and Drawings Study Room.
National Museum of Iraq
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National Museum of Iraq, museum of antiquities located in Baghdad, Iraq, featuring Iraqi art and artifacts dating from the Stone Age civilization of the Fertile Crescent to the Middle Ages.
Following World War I, archaeologists from Europe and the United States began several excavations throughout Iraq. To keep those finds from leaving Iraq, Gertrude Bell, a British intelligence agent, archaeologist, and director of antiquities in Iraq, in 1922 began collecting the artifacts in a government building in Baghdad. The Iraqi government moved the collection to a new building in 1926 and established the Baghdad Antiquities Museum, with Bell as its director. In 1966 the collection was moved again, to a two-story, 484,375-square-foot (45,000-square-metre) building in Baghdad’s Al-Ṣāliḥiyyah neighbourhood in Al-Karkh district on the east side of the Tigris River. With this move the name of the museum was changed to the National Museum of Iraq. About 3,000 items were looted from the museum following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This sparked an international effort by law enforcement officials and archaeologists to catalogue and retrieve the missing items. In February 2009 the museum reopened after being closed for some six years at that time it was estimated that only about one-quarter of the stolen items had been recovered.
The collections of the National Museum of Iraq include art and artifacts from ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Chaldean civilizations. The museum also has galleries devoted to collections of both pre-Islamic and Islamic Arabian art and artifacts. Of its many noteworthy collections, the Nimrud gold collection—which features gold jewelry and figures of precious stone that date to the 9th century bce —and the collection of stone carvings and cuneiform tablets from Uruk are exceptional. The Uruk treasures date to between 3500 and 3000 bce .
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.
National Museum of Iraq Reopens After Ten YearsThe National Museum of Iraq reopening, August 21, 2014. Photo: Hadi Mizban, courtesy the Associated Press.
The National Museum of Iraq, heavily looted in 2003 after the US invasion of Baghdad, partially reopened last week, unveiling two newly renovated halls, reports Reuters. It had previously remained closed to the public, save for a handful of occasions, due to security concerns.
Now on display are over 500 artifacts, predominantly from the Hellenistic period (312–139 B.C.), including a number of life-size statues from Hatra, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site built by the Seleucid Empire in the second or third century B.C. The museum’s collection spans 7,000 years of history in Mesopotamia, a region known as the cradle of civilization, covering the ancient Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations.
The reopening comes on the heels of increased violence in the region at the hands of Sunni militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has seen the destruction of many important cultural and archaeological sites deemed to be idolatrous or from non-Islamic religions. (See artnet News reports Are More Monuments Under Threat From ISIS? and ISIS Destroying Iraq’s Cultural Heritage One Site at a Time for more.)
Despite unrest in other parts of the country, the inauguration of the new halls attracted many visitors. Qais Rashid, head of the state-run Museum Department, told Reuters that the new exhibition contains some artifacts that have been recovered following the widespread looting over decade ago. At the time, the US was criticized for failing to take measures to protect the museum collection during the invasion.
What now for Iraq’s Mosul Museum, recently liberated from ISIS?
Cathy Otten is a journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan. She reports on the war with ISIS and is the author of a forthcoming book, With Ash on Their Faces: Yazidi Women and the Islamic State.
The only way into the Mosul Museum, as I discovered a few months ago, was to crawl through a hole in the wall, accessed from an alleyway that cuts between the museum and its former administrative buildings. At the end of the alley is an Iraqi Federal Police barricade beyond that are the narrow streets of Mosul’s old town and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave his infamous July 2014 sermon after the jihadist group conquered the city. In March, Iraqi forces retook the museum, and I was granted access to the site with two colleagues. The surrounding neighborhood was blackened, destroyed, still unsafe. We were told to watch out for ISIS snipers, and the sound of gunfire shook the stillness. Only Iraqi Federal Police were wandering about, though I could also hear birdsong coming from the museum’s garden, where rosebushes and fig and olive trees had been planted in homage to the gardens of ancient Nineveh, around which the modern city of Mosul arose.
Inside the museum, I found the floor of the Assyrian gallery carpeted with shards of stone inscribed with cuneiform, remnants of the tablets that told the stories of Mesopotamia. In the gallery devoted to the city of Hatra, capital of the first Arab kingdom, the plinths bore no pedestals or statuary. It was here that ISIS fighters in 2015 filmed themselves smashing objects with sledgehammers. Nearby is a gigantic hole where explosives tore through an Assyrian winged bull statue that was too large to destroy by hand. Below that hole, in the basement, the floor of the museum’s library was thick with ash. The walls were licked black with fire, and the air was hot and sweet with the smell of burnt paper and plastic. Some 25,000 books had been destroyed.
Because of the building’s height, ISIS used it as a sniper’s nest. When the museum was retaken in March, Iraq’s Federal Police found bodies of ISIS fighters among the rubble, said Wisam Fadil of the force’s Third Division as he trod around the ruins. He’s from Baghdad, but for him, these objects transcend region: they are remnants of a shared, ancient past.
OPENING OF BASRA MUSEUM
The official opening of the Basra Museum on the 19 th of March 2019, is the culmination of over a decade of planning and hard work and is a prime example of the success of local efforts and expertise supported by the international community.
The Basra Museum has had a turbulent history. The museum was looted and damaged both during the Gulf War and 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In 2005, Former Director of the Museum, Mudhar Abd Alhay was shot and killed, while his successor and Basra’s current Director of Antiquities and Heritage, Qahtan Al-Abeed narrowly escaped with his life during the incident. After 1991, the remaining antiquities were moved to Baghdad and housed in the National Museum but were once again subjected to looting when the National Museum was ransacked during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The surviving objects from the original Basra Museum now sit on a single shelf in the Basra Gallery.
The Museum building, a former Saddam Hussain palace, was for many years used by the British Army as an operational centre. As part of their withdrawal plan, the British Army agreed to hand over the former palace to Iraq, located on the waterfront of Shatt Al-Arab. Despite the history of the palace, it has since, been reclaimed by Iraqis and deliberately repurposed to display their history. Qahtan has expressed hopes to “replace the themes of dictatorship and tyranny with civilisation and humanity”. The Basra Museum officially opened all its galleries to the public last month, with support from the U.K. government’s Cultural Protection Fund, administered by the British Council and implemented by the Friends of Basrah Museum Charity (FOBM). The ribbon cutting ceremony was preceded by a beautiful oud rendition of the Iraqi national anthem and speeches by senior figures.
The new galleries cover Sumer, Assyria and Babylonia, with objects dating from 3000 BC to 550 BC and include statues, cylinder seals, jewellery and tablets. With over 2,000 artifacts now on display in the museum, many of which were transferred from the National Museum in Baghdad, the Basra Museum is now the second largest museum in the country.
The late Dr Lamia Al Gailani Werr, a leading Iraqi archaeologist and one of the founding trustees of FOBM, played a key role in the project of reopening the Museum and was remembered by all who spoke at the opening ceremony, “we have delivered the promise, for you, dear Lamia… and we have achieved this dream because of you,” said Qahtan Al Abeed, who continued to say “the world has witnessed what the barbarians did to the Mosul Museum, this is a message to all, if you damage one museum in our beloved north we will celebrate the opening of a new one in the south and we all hope to celebrate the re-opening of the Mosul Museum soon”. Iraqi Parliamentarian, Maysoon Al-Damluji, also emphasised the symbolic importance of the museum, “this is a message to the world Basra is not just here to provide you with petrol, it has immense history, and culture, and is the home of many intellectuals”.
Focus now turns to the completion and opening of the museum’s resource centre. Dr. John Curtis, Chairman of the FOBM, believes the new resource centre will become a hub of information, not only for Basra, but for the entire southern region of Iraq. The British Institute for the Study of Iraq has donated its entire library to the new Basra Museum, with aims to open the doors of the resource centre to the public later this year.