The architectural design chosen for the reconstruction of Al Nuri Mosque complex in Mosul will ensure the identity of the historic site is preserved, but the surrounding area will change, an official told The National.
Last November Unesco, the UN's cultural agency, launched a competition that called for a conceptual design of the area around the mosque, which was destroyed by ISIS in 2017.
The Courtyards Dialogue design submitted by eight Egyptian architects was selected last week from 123 anonymous entries, but the drawings were criticised by some Iraqis.
An independent international jury assessed the drawings in line with Unesco’s standards.
"What must be understood is the drawings did not change the location and design of the mosque and minaret," Ahmed Al Omari, a member of the jury and professor at Mosul University, told The National.
"One of the main requirements of the competition was that they stay as they are."
The designs were based on preserving the standing structures of the prayer hall, the rehabilitation of some historical buildings, and their integration into the new designs, including the landscaping of the entire site, Prof Al Omari said.
“We felt the Egyptian drawing took into account the functions and needs of the city and integrated it into the mosque’s complex.
"We want all the designs to reflect the identity of Mosul and to have cultural links."
The design received mixed reviews on social media, with some welcoming the design and others saying it was “too modern”.
“We thought a new identity was needed for the surrounding area,” Prof Al Omari said.
“However, due to the fact the reconstruction will be done on a historical site, we agreed that the drawing had to reflect its background."
ISIS destroyed the 12-century mosque as Iraqi government troops moved to recapture the city in 2017.
Three years earlier, the extremist group's leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, proclaimed a caliphate from the mosque.
Damascus emir Nur Al Din Al Zanki ordered the construction of the great mosque in 1172.
It is famous for its leaning minaret, nicknamed Al Hadba, the humpback.
The UAE is funding the Revive the Spirit of Mosul project, launched by Unesco, to rebuild the city’s historic landmarks.
In 2018, the UAE donated more than $50 million to support the project, which will restore Al Nuri Mosque and its minaret, Al Saa’a Monastery and the 800-year-old Al Tahera church.
The winning architects will now produce a more detailed design, with a view to beginning construction in late autumn.
The jury paid particular attention to designs that enhanced the position of Al Nuri Mosque complex as an open urban space.
It will be integrated into the Old City of Mosul, creating a community space, said Salma Al Darmaki, secretary general of the UAE National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, and project manager of UAE-backed projects in Mosul.
"Special attention was paid to the proposed connections with existing buildings and remains within the perimeters of the complex, in particular Al Hadba minaret, which was not included in the scope of the competition," Ms Al Darmaki told The National.
The jury appreciated the "skilful way in which these various elements were integrated in the winning design", she said.
Ms Al Darmaki said the UAE would ensure the historical site was rebuilt according to international standards.
“The decision of what the mosque should look like when it is rebuilt is for the people and government of Iraq to decide, in accordance with international standards and best practice in this field,” she said.
Ms Al Darmaki said the UAE felt it was crucial that the “mosque serves the needs of the people of Mosul, promotes the values of unity and fraternity, and preserves the elements of heritage".
“We hope that it can serve as a space for prayer, reflection and learning, and contribute to the healing of the city," she said.