Historic prayer hall found under Iraq's Al Nuri mosque

Restoration work by the UN on the famous 12th-century mosque has begun

A prayer hall from the 12th century has been found underneath Mosul's famed Al Nuri Mosque, destroyed by ISIS several years ago, officials in the northern Iraqi city said.

Al Nuri mosque and its famous leaning minaret were demolished by the terror group in 2017 as government forces closed in on the last fighters from the terrorist group that once controlled the city and much of north-west Iraq.

It has been undergoing reconstruction by Unesco since 2018.

The prayer room was found during an excavation, said Khaireddine Nasser, director of the department of antiquities and heritage in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital.

Four additional rooms for the performance of ablutions were also discovered under the prayer room, Mr Nasser said, adding they “are interconnected and built of stone and plaster".

It has added “better knowledge of the surface of Al Nuri mosque and this ancient prayer room, but also the ablution basins” found there.

Each ablution room measures three metres in height and 3.5 metres in width, Mr Nasser told AFP.

“They are about six metres underground,” he said.

He said the discovery “amplifies the importance of this historical and archaeological site".

The excavation was carried out by Mr Nasser’s department, with support from Unesco.

“Unesco has uncovered, potentially, the original prayer hall of Al Nuri mosque underneath the current prayer hall. This could possibly be the 12th century original structure of the Mosque,” said Omar Mohammed, a historian from Mosul, known until recently only as the anonymous blogger 'Mosul Eye'.

“This is a great discovery and it is another proof that the ancient Mosul still exists underground.”

The UN's cultural agency launched the “revive the spirit of Mosul'' project in 2018. It has focused on restoring the country's religious heritage.

Plans included rebuilding Al Nuri Mosque, the 800-year-old Al Tahera Church and Al Saa'a Monastery.

The UAE donated $50.4 million to fund the project in 2019, creating employment and training opportunities for Mosul residents.

It is the first country to restore Christian churches in Iraq that were destroyed by ISIS.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 1:43 PM