When you think of Iraq you may well think of smoky battlefields, cruise missiles, and charging tanks. Years of conflict have besieged this country, and while Iraq continues to struggle with political strife, there is much to see here other than just the scars of war. This country is one that is covered in natural beauty, such as the winding waterways of the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is often known as the Cradle of Civilization and this is a reference to its ancient Mesopotamian cities that are famed for their innovations in science, writing, literature, medicine, theology and law.
This is also the old home of Babylonia which used to be the stomping ground of Alexander the Great. Mysterious towns like Ur mix with Ottoman relics and famous mosques along the borders and you will also find stunning canyons that carve out large crescents in the fertile plains of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Imam Hussain's Shrine, Karbala
In the middle of the bustling city, Imam Hussain's Shrine represents one of the first and largest Muslim pilgrimage sites in the world. See the final resting place of Husayn Ibn Ali (the third Shia imam), a holy site greatly respected by Muslims all over the planet. If you visit during Ashura, the anniversary of the imam's death, you’ll find millions of pilgrims who come to pray and pay their respects to the famous martyr. Reflect on the architectural style of the grand complex, and enjoy the view of its golden domes and minarets, accompanied by numerous colorful decorations. Outside, check out the quaint shops and stalls selling refreshments and souvenirs.
Shrine Amir al-mo'menin Ali bin Abi Talib peace be upon him, Najaf
Pay your respects at Shrine Amir al-mo'menin Ali bin Abi Talib peace be upon him, considered the third holiest pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims. The complex serves as the resting place for the first imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and is also believed by many to house the remains of Noah and Adam. The complex was built around the imam’s grave in 977 CE, and has since been damaged and repaired several times. Reflect on the ancient traditional Islamic architecture, and don’t miss seeing the gold veranda, which serves as an entirely gilded entrance to the building.
Erbil Citadel, Erbil
The World Heritage Site of Erbil Citadel showcases a historic fortress perched upon a large 'tell', a mound formed by the site being constantly occupied since the ancient times. Excavations show evidence of the citadel’s inhabitation in the 5th millennium BC, and possibly even earlier, in the Neolithic Period. Exploring the maze-like alleys and antique buildings within the citadel’s stone walls, you will discover thousands of years of Erbil’s rich history and cultural heritage, from prehistoric times to the Neo-Assyrian and Ottoman eras.
Babylon, Al Hillah
Hillah is located near the ruins of ancient Babylon. It is likely that Babylon was founded in the third millennium BC and rose to prominence over the next thousand years. By the 18th century BC the city was the centre of the empire of Hammurabi. Various empires controlled Babylon over the following centuries. Babylon briefly regained independence during the Neo-Babylonian empire towards the end of the 7th century BC, most notably under the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar II, but came under Persian rule in the 6th century BC. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great captured Babylon. Babylon remained a notable Persian province until the 7th century AD, and then fell into decline.
The ruins of Babylon have suffered greatly due to looting and destructive policies. Parts of Nebuchadnezzar's palace and some of the old city walls still remain. Saddam Hussein commissioned a non-scientific, much controversial "restoration" of ancient Babylon on part of the site, in the process destroying much of the ancient site all the way to the foundations for the purpose. A modern palace was constructed for him on what was purported to have been Nebuchadnezzar ancient palace. A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate is displayed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Wadi Al-Salaam Cemetery, Najaf
See one of the world's largest cemeteries at Wadi Al-Salaam Cemetery. Explore on your own, or join an organized tour and learn about the history of the 601 hectare (1,485 acre) site. Among the over 5 million graves, you'll see the final resting place of important citizens and ancient prophets. Once considered a part of heaven, the cemetery draws scores of faithful pilgrims; many wish to be buried here, believing they will find peace after death.
Al Abbas Holy Shrine, Karbala
Al-Abbas B. Imam Ali was one of the greatest Islamic and historical characters. He reflected the real brotherhood trait during Al-Taff battle when he sacrificed himself to protect his family, in addition to granting his palms for the sake of defending the Islamic values and idealism of Ahlul-Bayt, which Yazid was seeking to alter.
Rabban Hormizd Monastery, Al Qush
Rabban Hormizd Monastery (Syriac: ܪܒܢ ܗܘܪܡܝܙܕ ܥܓ̰ܡܝܐ) is an important monastery of the Chaldean Catholic Church, founded about 640 AD, carved out in the mountains about 2 miles from Alqosh, Iraq, 28 miles north of Mosul. It was the official residence of the patriarchs of the Eliya line of the Assyrian Church of the East from 1551 to the 18th century, and after the union with Rome in the early 19th century, it became a prominent monastery of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
The monastery is named after Rabban Hormizd (rabban is the Syriac for monk) of the Church of the East, who founded it in the seventh century.
Mudhafaria Minarett, Erbil
The Mudhafaria Minaret is a minaret located in the new Minare Park on the west region of Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq.
The minaret is 36 m (118 ft) high, was built in 1190–1232 AD (586–630 AH) by the Turcoman prince of Erbil, in the reign of Saladin, Muzaffar Al-Din Abu Sa’eed Al-Kawkaboori (Gökböri) who had entered in the obedience of Saladin without war and married his sister.
The minaret is composed of a high octagonal base and a tall cylindrical shaft, with a balcony located between the base and the shaft.
It is built of baked bricks, the base being decorated with two tiers of niches with pointed arches, two on each of the eight faces that are inscribed in rectangular frames. The balcony parapet is carved with twenty-four small niches, the access door to the minaret steps is on the eastern side of the octagonal base and leads top to the balcony. From there a small door gives access to steps inside the cylindrical shaft that led to the second balcony now collapsed.
The shaft tapers inward and is decorated with several bands of interlocking diagonal Hazar-Baf motifs that are separated with thin bands. Examples of Kufi calligraphy can be seen, showing the names of Muhammad and Mas'oudi Muhammadi, the builders of the Minaret.