Iraq’s Hatra: A World Heritage Site in crossfire of war
Baghdad - The ancient city of Hatra withstood Roman invasions nearly 2,000 years ago and decades of more recent war and instability in Iraq but then jihadists marked it for destruction.
The Islamic State (ISIS) vandalised Hatra, 110km south-west of Mosul, and is reported to still have a presence in the area, which may put the famed archaeological site in the line of fire as Iraqi forces fight to drive the jihadists back.
Hatra, known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, was established in the second or third century BC and became a religious and trading centre under the Parthian empire.
It was surrounded by two walls — one of earth and another of stone that was dotted with towers. The fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors: Trajan in 166AD and Septimius Severus in 198. Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, a few decades later.
The city, however, remained well preserved over the centuries that followed. The site was excavated in the early 20th century and again from the early 1950s. Two decades later, Hatra left its mark on pop culture as the location for the opening of horror film The Exorcist in 1973.
In addition to its imposing fortifications, Hatra was home to magnificent temples that blended Eastern and Western architecture. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
Like many other archaeological sites in Iraq, access to Hatra has been limited by instability and cycles of violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
In June 2014, the Islamic State (ISIS) overran Mosul and other territory in Iraq and carried out a seemingly endless series of atrocities.
Seeking to continue to shock the world and remain the focus of attention, ISIS began targeting Iraqi heritage sites as well as brutally killing people. The jihadists frame the destruction as a religiously mandated elimination of idols but have no qualms about selling smaller artefacts to fund their operations.
They ransacked the Mosul museum, blew up the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and came for Hatra.
ISIS released a video in April 2015 showing militants knocking sculptures off the walls of a building, shooting at them with an assault rifle and hacking away at a statue with a pickaxe.
The extent of the damage at the site is unclear but it may be in for further destruction if fighting breaks out in the area during Iraq’s operation to retake Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh province.
Agence France- Presse