Iraq unveils restoration at ancient city of Hatra after ISIS rampage

Country's heritage sites suffered greatly during extremist group's rule over northern and western areas

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Iraq has unveiled three monumental sculptures in the ancient city of Hatra that were restored as part of the country's efforts to undo damage to its heritage sites by ISIS during the extremist group's brief but brutal rule.

Video footage released by ISIS in 2015 showed its militants using guns and pickaxes to destroy the remains of one of the leading trade centres between the Roman and Parthian empires in the first and second centuries AD.

“ISIS destroyed everything that was important in this city,” senior antiquities official Ali Obeid Sholgham told AFP.

Khair Al Din Ahmed Nasser, head of antiquities in Nineveh province, said works of art were “ripped out and shattered — we found fragments all over the site".

“We recovered some pieces. Others which were missing, we replaced with the same type of stone.”

Among the restored pieces unveiled on Thursday were a Roman-style sculpture of a life-size figure and a series of reliefs of faces on the side of the great temple.

ISIS filmed similar acts of destruction at Mosul Museum in the capital of Nineveh province, 100 kilometres north-east of Hatra, and in Palmyra in neighbouring Syria.

Iraqi government forces retook Hatra in 2017, several months before claiming victory over the extremists who seized much of the north and west of the country in 2014.

ISIS destroyed many of the thousands of heritage sites under its control in both countries, both through the looting and the sale of artefacts to fund its operations as well as through the destruction of structures and objects considered heretical under its extremist ideology.

Some sites were damaged during battles to drive out the extremists, such as the Al Nouri Mosque in Mosul, with its famous leaning minaret.

Iraq's ancient heritage had already been hit by a wave of looting of museums and ancient sites in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of 2003.

The restoration work at Hatra is being carried out by Iraqi experts in collaboration with Italy's International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies, with funding from the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas.

In the first phase of the restoration, carried out in 2020, experts assessed the damage and secured wall sculptures. This was the first operation of this scale on this site since its liberation in April 2017, the alliance's website said.

The second stage consists of “rehabilitating the on-site house of the archaeological mission and restoring carved decorations and damaged elements of one of the temples in the city”, it said.

The project also provides on-the-job training for young Iraqi curators and archaeologists.

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Updated: February 25, 2022, 4:32 PM