Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, gets a boost as tourists return

Iraqi authorities are claiming a cultural victory after reopening one of the country’s most popular sites to tourists.

The ruins of Hatra, an archaeological site over 2,000 years old near Mosul, lie at the heart of the former “capital” proclaimed by the Islamic State militant group, ISIL. It was an important religious and commercial center under the Parthian Empire in 300-100 BC.

But in 2015, much of the world watched helplessly in horror as an ISIL video showed some of its members destroying a series of landforms. Some fired bullets into the building while others hacked into statues with pickaxes.

Hatra is designated an endangered World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It had imposing fortifications and magnificent temples, mixing Greek and Roman architectural styles with oriental decorative elements. But it hasn’t been visited by tourists for years.

In 2015, the world watched in terror and outrage as a video made by the terror group showed its militants destroying a series of bas-reliefs, shooting them and hacking into a statue with a pickaxe.

Even though Iraqi forces backed by an international coalition retook Hatra in 2017, the site has not been rediscovered by people.

A private museum has taken matters into its own hands to change that and has started organizing tours. The first was last week and visitors were amazed and moved upon seeing the ruins.

“There is a sense of sadness, not only regarding the destruction of the site, but also because there are no explanatory or informative labels on the ruins,” said Beriar Bahaa al-Din, PhD student in anthropology at the University of Exeter. in Britain told AFP.

He thinks that because of its history, the place should be a global tourist attraction visited by people from all over the world. At the moment however, it is really difficult to get there, “you have to know local people to be able to access it”, he added.

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