Hatra Temple in Iraq: the Past and Present Life of a Lost Capital

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Today, let us embark on a journey through time and space to Hatra, the ancient city in Northern part of Iraq!

The Exterior of Hatra temple

A Glimpse of Hatra: Splendid Mixture of Architectural Styles

Hatra, also known as Al-Hadr or Al-Hatrah, is an ancient fortified city and archaeological site located in modern-day Iraq. It lies about 110 kilometers southwest of Mosul and 290 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. Hatra was the capital of the Hatra Kingdom, which flourished during the 2nd century AD.

The city of Hatra was strategically standing along major trade routes, making it an important center for commerce and culture. The most significant and well-preserved feature of Hatra is its religious buildings, particularly the temples dedicated to different deities. The Hatra temples were famous for their unique combination of Greco-Roman and Eastern architectural elements, showcasing a blend of local and foreign influences. The construction of religious structures within Hatra completed out of limestone and showcased intricately carved details and reliefs.

The pillars and beams of Hatra temple

Some highlights in Hatra

One of the most impressive temples in Hatra is the Great Temple. It is a massive structure that likely served as the main temple of the city. It paid homage to Shamash, the Mesopotamian sun god. And iis famous for its large central sanctuary surrounded by a colonnaded courtyard. Other notable temples include those dedicated to Allat, the goddess of fertility and war, and to the goddess Shami, among others.

Tragically, Hatra faced destruction in 240 AD when the Sasanian Empire under King Shapur I besieged and ultimately sacked the city. Despite the devastation, some parts of the site, especially the temples, have managed to survive to this day and stand as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the region.

A little corner of Hatra
Rik in Hatra Temple

The Destruction of Hatra during the Occupation of ISIS

Hatra gained its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, recognizing its historical significance and architectural brilliance. However, the site faced significant threats and damage during the conflicts that have taken place in Iraq in the 21st century. Especially Hatra faced severe threats and damage during the occupation of ISIS in the early 2010s. In 2014, ISIS captured large parts of Iraq, including the Nineveh Governorate, where Hatra is located.

In March 2015, ISIS militants launched a deliberate campaign to destroy cultural heritage sites, including Hatra. They considered pre-Islamic artifacts and structures as idols and deemed them to be against their strict interpretation of Islam. As a result, they started a campaign of destruction, looting, and vandalism across many historical sites in the region, and Hatra was no exception.

Hatra and the tower crane behind the scene.
One of the entrances of Hatra

Post-ISIS Restorations of Hatra

After the liberation of the region from ISIS control, assessments were conducted to evaluate the extent of the damage inflicted on Hatra and other archaeological sites. While some parts of the site met with severe damages, a portion of Hatra’s architectural heritage had survived, thanks to the site’s resilient construction and preservation efforts by local communities.

There are some Post-ISIS restoration efforts undertaken to rebuild and preserve what remains of the site and to protect it from further threats. International organizations, governments, and local communities have actively engaged in these endeavors to safeguard the remnants of Hatra’s cultural heritage for future generations.

Despite the constant challenges, Hatra remains an important symbol of the resilience and cultural significance of Iraq’s historical legacy. Interested in this ancient city and wanting to see it by yourselves? Join us on our Grand Iraq Autumn Tour in October!

Our group at Hatra temple