The 13 best places to visit in Iraq

 

Completed in 1990 in the capital, Baghdad, is an enormous bronze arch known as the Swords Of Qadisiyah, sometimes called the Victory Arch, The Arch Of Triumph or the Hands Of Victory, commemorating the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran. Marking the entrance to the Great Celebration Square each hand emerging from the ground holds a 43 metre (141 ft) long sword that meets 40 metres (130 ft) above the ground. 

13. Swords Of Qādisīyah

 

Built in the 11th century to the south of the capital, Baghdad, in the city of Karbala is the enormous Imam Husayn Shrine, the third holiest site for Shi'ite Muslims outside of Mecca and Medina. The mausoleum is covered in gold and silver, above it sit's the vast dome with minarets of pure gold, the whole complex surrounded by a tall, decorative boundary wall.

12. Imam Husayn Shrine

 

Completed in 1983 in the capital, Baghdad, is the Al-Shaheed Monument, sometimes known as the Martyr's Memorial, commemorating the Iraqi soldiers who died during the 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran. The site consists of a 40 metre (131 ft) tall split turquoise ceramic tiled dome around an eternal flame, with the whole complex sitting on a circular platform at the centre of an artificial lake.

11. Al-Shaheed Monument

 

In the north of the country, in the war torn city of Mosul is the Mosul Grand Mosque, one of few remaining structures to have survived the 2016-17 military campaign to retake the city from Islamic State terrorists. Due to the areas continual instability this wonderful piece of architecture remains unfinished to this day.

10. Mosul Grand Mosque

 

Twice between the 18th and 6th century BC the great city of Babylon is believed to have been the largest city on Earth, and within it were the fabled Hanging Gardens Of Babylon, one of the original 7 Wonders of the World.

South of the capital, Baghdad, in the city of Hillah are all that remains of the once great Babylon, with just a few broken mud brick huts and debris, all it's wealth having been plundered throughout the centuries and it's imposing palaces having fallen away over time. In 1987 Saddam Hussein tried to rebuild Babylon over the top of some Babylonian ruins, despite nobody knowing what they would have looked like they built new structures in it's place. Worse still, during the 2003 invasion, military camps were set up on some ruins, grounds levelled for landing pads and even trenches dug through temples. The good news is that an estimated 95% of Babylon could be hidden in un-excavated sites just waiting to be found.

Pictured are the rebuilt ruins of Babylon.

9. Babylon

 

Built in the 14th century BC on the western edge of the capital, Baghdad, is the Ziggurat Of Dur-Kurgalzu, sometimes referred to as the Ziggurat Of Aqar Quf. Once part of a Sumerian Temple Complex with an accompanying Royal Palace the Ziggurat is all that remains. For centuries it was hidden but for the large stone protruding through the sand. Once excavated in 1942 the brick structure underneath was discovered incredibly well preserved making for one of the most complete Ziggurats to have survived.

8. The Ziggurat Of Dur-Kurigalzu

 

Slightly to the south east of the capital, Baghdad, are the remains of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, the former capital of the Parthian Empire and one of the largest cities in the world at the time. Shortly after the 651 AD Muslim conquest of Persia it fell to decay and disrepair.

Built in the 3rd to 6th century AD and standing 37 metres (121 ft) high is the Taq Kasra, sometimes called the Archway Of Ctesiphon, the last remaining visible structure of the once great city. The arch is the largest un-reinforced single span vault made of brick anywhere in the world and is considered a landmark piece of construction in the history of architecture.

7. Taq Kasra

 

North of the capital, Baghdad, at the southern edges of the Zagros Mountain Range is the city of Erbil, and built during an unknown period in history at the heart of the city atop a 32 metre (104 ft) natural mound lies it's Citadel. From the surrounding ground below, what appears to be a continuous defensive wall is actually a series of individual fortified houses built side by side. From the edges of the citadel itself visitors will have fantastic views over the surrounding city and beyond to the great open plains. Deemed one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites in the Middle East, the Citadel Of Erbil was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. Citadel Of Erbil

 

First built by the Sumerians in the 21st century BC and restored by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC in the south of the country is the Great Ziggurat Of Ur. Excavated in the 1920's, then encased in partial reconstructed stone to the facade and the monumental staircase in the 1980's, this ancient Mesopotamian temple is one of the most well preserved Ziggurats in both Iran and Iraq.

5. The Ziggurat Of Ur

 

Running for 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) through the north west of Iran, the south east of Turkey straight across the north eastern part of Iraq are the Zagros Mountains, the largest range of all three countries. These steep snowy peaks make up some of the most extreme and spectacular landscape in the country, with it's highest point, the Cheekha Dar standing a whopping 3,611 metres (11,847 ft) above sea level.

4. Zagros Mountains

 

Constructed some time in the 3rd century BC in the north west of the country between what is now Mosul and the capital, Baghdad, are the remains of Hatra, the first Arab Kingdom of the Parthian Empire. Up until the year 2015 what remained of the city with it's large temples of Hellenistic and Roman blended architecture with eastern decorative features were considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site of incredible value.

Despite the preservation of the site for 1,400 years, in 2015 when the area was occupied by Islamic State it was reported that sculptures and engraved images were destroyed, and the walls and towers that still stood contained scratches and bullet holes. As of January 2018 an assessment mission is planned as soon as it is safe to do so.

3. Hatra

 

Completed in 851 AD in the city of Samarra just north of the modern day capital, Baghdad, is a 52 metre (171 ft) spiral cone structure known as the Malwiya Tower. After the destruction of the Great Mosque Of Samarra in 1278 only the outer walls and the unique ascending conical Malwiya Tower survived, where they have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

2. The Malwiya Tower

 

In the north east of the country in the turbulent Kurdistan region of Iraq is the incredible and relatively unknown site of the Rawandiz Canyon. Set within striking arid scenery the huge gaping valley has been carved over centuries by the waters of the Rawandiz River. Referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, those visitors that do venture into the remote landscape of Kurdistan will be met with one of the finest views in the world.

1. Rawandiz Canyon

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