With the help of UNESCO, Iraq is rebuilding its lost heritage in a bid to revive the culture of this astonishing country and to appeal, once again, to tourists from around the globe.

Iraq is looking to rebuild its historical roots to give current and future generations their identity back. It is working in coordination with UNESCO and various institutions to give back to Iraqi people a hope for a better life based on thousand-year old traditions and culture.

At the end of December 2021, the people of Iraq’s capital – Baghdad – celebrated the reopening of Al-Mutanabbi Street. The pedestrian street has a 1,000 year history dating back to the Abbasids sultans.

Discovering one of the world’s oldest book trading places in Baghdad

The street lies in the heart of Baghdad’s old quarter. As the centre of book trading for a millennial, Al-Mutanabbi street can be considered as one of the oldest book streets in the world. And certainly the most ancient one in the Arabic world. It is surrounded by important historical monuments such as the Baghdadi Museum of Folklore and the Qushla, a 19th-century Ottoman barracks now turned into a cultural hub. It escaped most of the destruction during the Iraqi war, until March 2007 when a devastating car bomb destroyed the area, killing 40 people.

However, as a symbol of Iraq renaissance, Al-Mutanabbi street is back following a decade of renovation and reconstruction. At the end of December, Baghdad mayor and many officials reopened the narrow street. Once again, it is lined with dozens of book shops, book stalls but also art galleries and cafes installed in neatly-restored Ottoman era buildings and newly painted shops.

The inaugural festivities included a firework, clown performances, folkloric ballads and music as well as a theatre play presented by students of the school of fine arts and a book fair. Locals now pin their hope that Al-Mutanabbi street will be able to attract in the future tourists keen to discover a strong element of Arabic culture.

The new “Battle of Mosul” set for its rebirth

Another important and highly symbolic reconstruction is the renaissance of Mosul, 400 km north of Baghdad. The city used to be one of the most important historical sites in the Arabic world as the home of former Assyrian city of Nineveh.

The battle for Mosul left behind an estimated 8 million tons of rubble and destroyed prominent historical landmarks. Al-Nouri Mosque was destroyed and Our Lady of the Hour, a historical Dominican Convent was heavily damaged.
Old Mosul district back to 2006 ( Photo : Eng Omer Akram, CC BY-SA 4.0

In February 2018, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, announced the launch of a flagship initiative by the UN organisation named “Revive the Spirit of Mosul“. UNESCO set forth on a path of reconstruction and reconciliation to bring this rich and diverse city, with its pluralistic history at the crossroads of cultures and religions of the Middle East, back to its former glory.

As a first step towards the recovery of Mosul, UNESCO is working on the redevelopment of Al-Nouri Mosque and its famous Al Hadba leaning minaret, Al-Tahera Church and Our Lady of the Hour, Dominican Convent, funded by the United Arab Emirates. Other donors of the Initiative include the European Union, the Flanders, The Netherlands, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Italy, Latvia and Germany. A major step forward was allocating the Al-Nouri Mosque reconstruction to a group of Egyptian architects in April 2021.

Beyond the redevelopment of architectural landmarks, the initiative includes on the-job training for young professionals, strengthening the capacities of craftspeople, job-creation opportunities and technical and vocational education. It will also help put Mosul on the tourism map in the not-so-distant future.

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