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ancient city at risk
urban planning for prophet ezekiel’s home town

Abdul-Khaleq Dosky
An ancient hilltop fortress, Amadiya, near Dohuk, which may have been home to the Bible’s three wise men, is overcrowded. The city’s youth are being re-settled but locals fear the changes will see…
26.07.2012  |  Dohuk

The ancient city of Amadiya, around 90 kilometres away from the metropolis of Dohuk, is known as the city of a thousand houses. But a thousand houses are not nearly enough to accommodate the growing population of this place, which was once apparently home to historical figures such as the prophet Ezekiel and the three wise men from the Christian Bible.

And around two years ago, the young people of Amadiya started to leave, building their houses outside the ancient city.

Amadiya’s four neighbourhoods - Sardabki, Maydan, Hamam and Ayoum -occupy a mountain top and a total area of around only six kilometres in a horse shoe shape. It is encircled by a wall and, although authorities removed part of the city’s fortifications in 1938 to allow cars access, its main road actually circumnavigates the city. Although some visitors have said that it looks much like any other Iraqi town, others say that, from a distance, it looks like a magical city 1,400 metres above sea level, dancing in the clouds.

And there are no empty spaces in this small city, population 8,800. Locals insist that this has made the city unique in the way that local relate to one another.

“People know each other really well and unlike in other Kurdish cities, familial rather than tribal relations govern their behaviour,” Mohammed al-Amadi, an Amadiya local, explains. “The people of the city feel that they are part of it and they derive their identity from the city, rather than that of any nearby tribe.”

However now that the city’s population is expanding and driving Amadiya’s youth outside of the fortified old city, there are fears that those communal bonds may be lost.

Over the past couple of years, local authorities have tried to encourage the city’s people to build new homes outside of the fortified area by parcelling out land, building government institutions outside of the area and starting a process of urban planning for Amadiya’s future.

NIQASH visited the main market in Amadiya to get locals’ opinions on what is now happening in their historic city.

Said Mohammed talks about the old cannons in the Sardabki area that used to be fired during the month of Ramadan, to let people know that the time of fasting was over and they could join friends and family in a meal. During Ramadan, Muslims will fast every day until the early evening at which stage they will meet up with friends and relatives for a meal, known as Iftar.

“But now most of these traditions have disappeared,” Mohammed says. “Today everybody is busy making money. The people of Amadiya still love one another but many of them have had to leave the city because there are no places for them to build new houses.”

Hawkar is one of those individuals; he built a house right outside of the fortified city. “Our family got bigger and there was no place left for us to build our houses,” Hawkar tells NIQASH. “So we left because the government gave us a piece of land. But my father’s house is still inside the castle.”

“We contracted a German company to help us to prepare a 25 year master plan for Amadiya,” Haji Assaf, the mayor of Amadiya, says. “And as part of that, we are going to try and expand the city eastwards, outside of the fortifications. This will include residential, cultural, tourist and other service-related facilities.”

There is even land allocated for a new university. Additionally as part of the plan, around 2,000 plots of land on the east side of the fortified city have been allocated for distribution to locals. There they will be allowed to build new homes – although those homes will need to be in keeping with general planning and the history of the area.

“Everyone who wants to build or renovate inside Amadiya must seek the advice of the local Department of Antiquities,” Assaf notes. “That is especially relevant to houses located near the city walls, or houses that have become part of the city walls over the years.”

The city is full of incredibly ancient and historic sites, Hayour Ihsan, director of the local Department of Antiquities, says. This includes a school founded in 1534, a mosque founded in the sixth century as well as the tombs of the various rulers of Amadiya and caves for the worship of Mithra, a deity dating back to before Christianity. Additionally, Assaf says, the gates of the city date back to similarly ancient times and they are particularly significant.

Because the Turkish border is only 10 kilometres away, Amadiya has also been a mountainous witness to historic battles between the Ottoman and Persian empires. More recently, Amadiya has provided a base for Turkish troops fighting Kurdish rebels.

Amadiya was also famous for its silk industry and was part of the southern Silk Road, the famous trade route stretching from Asia to Africa.

As such, the western gate “was very important for trade caravans passing through Amadiya to Mosul,” Assaf explains. “We must continue to take care of this gate because it contains ancient drawings showing the long history of this city.”