Grave concerns for 2,000-year-old Hatra temples as ISIS take control of territory
The Hatra complex, a World Heritage site which features 200-ft high temples, now stands in territory claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group, and UNESCO fears the precious ancient site will be destroyed by jihadists, who deem the statues to be idolatrous.
Hatra is an ancient city in the al-Jazira region of Iraq, which lies 290 km northwest of Baghdad. It is known as al-Hadr, a name which appears once in ancient inscriptions, and it was in the ancient Persian province of Khvarvaran.
Hatra is believed to have been built in the 3rd or 2nd century BC by the Seleucid Empire. After its capture by the Parthian Empire it flourished during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD as a religious and trading center. The region controlled from Hatra was the Kingdom of Araba, a semi-autonomous buffer kingdom on the western limits of the Parthian Empire, governed by Arabian princes.
Hatra became an important fortified frontier city and withstood repeated attacks by the Roman Empire, and played an important role in the Second Parthian War. Hatra defeated the Iranians at the battle of Shahrazoor in 238, but fell to the Iranian Sassanid Empire of Shapur I in 241. Present-day remains date back to between the 1st century BC and 2nd century AD.
Hatra is the best preserved and most informative example of a Parthian city. It is encircled by inner and outer walls nearly 6.4 km in circumference and supported by more than 160 towers. The temples cover some 1.2 hectares and are dominated by the Great Temple, an enormous structure with vaults and columns that once rose to 30 metres. The city was famed for its fusion of Greek, Mesopotamian, Canaanite, Aramean and Arabian pantheons. The city had temples to Nergal (Assyrian-Babylonian and Akkadian), Hermes (Greek), Atargatis (Syro-Aramaean), Allat and Shamiyyah (Arabian) and Shamash (the Mesopotamian sun god), which now puts the site at risk as ISIS forces have already destroyed monuments they have deemed as idolatrous.
The magnificent Hatra ruins. Photo source.
Some 20 Iraqi police officers who had been guarding the ancient area in Hatra left after it fell to Isis militants two weeks ago. Currently, there is no one protecting the temple, which is now in control of the rebels.
Last week, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova warned that the violence will see Iraq’s cultural heritage looted and destroyed - just as it was several years ago in the country. “Their intentional destruction are war crimes and a blow against the Iraqi people’s identity and history,” she said.
Featured image: Hatra ruins. Source: Wikipedia