Dating back at least 6,000 years, Erbil citadel is the oldest continuously inhabited urban settlement in the world and well worth a visit.
Sitting at the main entrance to the citadel is an imposing statue of Mubarak Ahmad Ibn Al-Mustawfi (1167-1239 AD) – a former minister and historian from Erbil who rose to fame chronicling the history of this ancient city.
From the foot of Mustawfi’s statue there is an impressive view over Shar Garden Square and the roof tops of the covered bazaar below.
Until 2006, the interior of the citadel was abuzz with daily life, but today, with restoration work by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in cooperation with UNESCO going on, an eerie silence reigns.
Because of the ongoing rehabilitation, many of the internal alley ways and dwellings are currently out of bounds, but it is not difficult to imagine the citadel’s former glory and a way of life that had changed little across the millennia.
As you enter the citadel, a shop selling artisanal souvenirs, books and maps greets you on the left, while the Erbil Textile Museum on your right invites you take a look at a collection of hand-woven Kurdish carpets, saddle bags and other textile artefacts from centuries past.
Established in a large, traditional house that once belonged to an eminent merchant, the museum offers a privileged view of one of the citadel’s domestic interiors.
Although the artefacts exhibited are not always as well-labelled as they could be, the staff at the Textile museum are very friendly and full of fascinating insights.
The museum also serves as an open workshop for a tradition-preserving scheme set up by UNESCO to ensure that the ancient carpet-weaving techniques are not lost. The works produced by the trainee weavers are available to buy and a well-stocked store downstairs has a great collection of textiles, books and other souvenirs.
After a walk around the museum, it is worth continuing down the main street of the citadel towards the North Gate.
On your right you’ll notice the beautifully tiled minaret of the mosque which is one of the few buildings in the citadel that is in continued use.
The arched North Gate itself offers a panoramic view of the sprawling city that has sprung up over the past century and a great spot from which to listen to the cacophony of calls to the evening prayer and watch the sun going down.