May 23, 2012 / 4:40 PM / 7 years ago

Factbox: Endangered heritage sites in and around Iraq

(Reuters) - A newly-extended oil pipeline that passes through the ancient city of Babylon, once home of the Hanging Gardens, has sparked a row between archaeology officials and the oil ministry, part of a larger debate over how to preserve Iraq’s heritage.

Before being reopened to visitors in 2008, Babylon was used by U.S. and coalition forces as a base and suffered the ravages of war - troops parked tanks and weaponry at the site.

Here is a look at some other endangered sites around the region:


Samarra is the site of a powerful Islamic capital city that ruled over the provinces of the Abbasid Empire extending from Tunisia to Central Asia for a century.

Samarra is a pilgrimage centre mainly for Shi’ite Muslims. The shrine to Ali al-Hadi and Hassan al-Askari, the 10th and 11th imams, is one of the holiest of Shi’ism. It was built in the 10th century, when Samarra was the seat of the Abbasid caliphate, and underwent a number of renovations, including the addition of a gilded dome in 1905.

However in 2006, the golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque, and later a pair of minarets, were destroyed by al-Qaeda insurgents. In July 2007, when the clock tower was blown up, the site was finally placed on the UNESCO endangered list. Authorities began rebuilding the shrine in 2008. The new golden dome, its most distinctive feature, is now nearly complete.


The ancient city of Hasankeyf, built on and around the banks of the Tigris river in southeastern Turkey, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, spanning some 10,000 years.

Hasankeyf and its surrounding limestone cliffs are home to thousands of human-made caves, 300 medieval monuments and a unique canyon ecosystem - all combining to create a beguiling open-air museum. In 1515, the city was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and has since remained a part of modern Turkey.

However despite widespread protests from local authorities, archaeologists, architects, preservationists and environmental groups, the hydroelectric Ilisu Dam is expected to be completed in 2013 creating a reservoir which will flood the site’s caves and most of its structures.


The 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to mark the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is in need of repair due to its rotting roof threatening the structural integrity of the building.

A historical “status quo” agreement among the three main denominations, the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian, has delineated ownership and use of different parts of the church.

A dispute between the three about who would be responsible for urgent restorations, especially the ageing roof, has lingered for years. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has formed a steering committee to address the restoration work. The committee has finalized its technical appraisal of how and at what cost the roof repairs will proceed, but fundraising and the actual repairs have yet to begin.

The government is in the process of finalizing documents for private and foreign government donors to contribute toward the effort.

Palestine is not a party to UNESCO’s Heritage Convention. A major Israeli army operation in 2002, when tanks deployed near Manger Square during a Palestinian uprising, drew world attention to the fact that the site deserved protection.


The ancient Citadel (Arg-e Bam) and surrounding cultural landscape of Bam was damaged in 2003 when the area was struck by a devastating earthquake which killed nearly 31,000 people. The historical complex was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004.

The modern city is located immediately to the south of the site of Arg-e Bam, once one of the world’s largest mud-brick complexes. Located on a hilltop, the citadel consisted of a series of three concentric walls made of mud brick and palm timbers, the outer wall of which enclosed the old city.

The ancient citadel was the strongest fortified place in Iran, having been used most extensively during the Iranian dynastic disputes of the 18th and 19th centuries.

A UNESCO delegation visited the site last October to assess the progress of the restoration that began after the 2003 earthquake and voiced concern over the development of a shantytown near the citadel.


Zabid is one of the coastal towns in Tehama area west of Yemen. It is a circular fortified town surrounded by seven gates - only four of which remain today. It was supplied with water by extensive canals. It was already flourishing when Islam was established in the region in the 7th century. Its development is due to Ibn Ziyad (the founder of the Zyadite dynasty), who was sent to the region by the Caliph al-Mamun in 820 AD to quell a rebellion.

Forty percent of the town’s original houses have been replaced by concrete buildings. Arson destroyed more in the northern side last December.

Sources; Reuters/UNESCO/ (Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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