In an estimated three months’ time the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah will have its own version of Rome’s Colosseum. An arena for theatre and other kinds of entertainment that is being built in the same style as the famous Italian amphitheatre, is intended to be the crowning glory of the province’s Hawary Shar Park.
“Sulaymaniyah is considered the cultural capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region so it should have a strong infrastructure to support that,” Barham Salih, the senior Iraqi Kurdish politician who heads the park project, told NIQASH. “This [amphitheatre] is only going to strengthen that. It will become a landmark in the park, in Sulaymaniyah and in the whole Kurdish region.”
Salih admits that the theatre project is one of his favourite parts of the whole park and he visits the construction site often. “We’re hoping the project is completed as soon as possible,” Salih said, adding that the new amphitheatre would play an important role in a planned festival of international and local arts and culture.
“The amphitheatre will be the first open-air theatre in Iraq that can accommodate this many people [5,000] and it is designed so that it won’t need a sound system,” boasts Rabeen Jamil, the engineering supervisor at the park. “The person speaking on stage will be able to be heard by those in the very back rows.”
The park itself first opened in May 2016 even though construction started as far back as 2004. Construction was plagued by budgets and planning problems but the park was eventually expanded to almost double the size – it’s now around 240 acres – and should eventually include a zoo, a golf course, various other dedicated areas for sports, a shopping centre and even a Hyatt hotel.
Over 3,000 trees and plants have been added to the surrounds in a valley that was once well known for being barren and lifeless. Planners say it will be the biggest amusement park in the Middle East and around 10,000 people are expected to visit daily during holidays.
Questions about why such a park is being constructed while the region suffers a financial crisis and teachers and other civil servants are not being paid, remain moot. Budgets for the park are old, with money allocated and handed over last year and earlier.
Work on the project actually began when Barham Salih was president of Iraqi Kurdistan. “This was my dream and now it is standing,” Salih says. “We are still working on it, trying to ensure that it achieves all that we want it to.”