Al Kosh, of Course!
by Joe Scarangella
Admittedly, one of the biggest problems with living and travelling "off-the-beaten track" is no one has bothered to beat a track for me. It's tough to find information on places to go and things to see in Iraq. A few years ago, the LP updated an Iraqi section in the Middle East guide. Sadly, it was thoroughly substandard. There are a couple blogs and such out there, but they're by travellers who go to the same places every time (oddly enough the ones suggested in the LP). And trying to rely on local info is tough as they rarely travel for fun to remote locations. So while i was in Lalish, in north-western Kurdistan, i opted for to stop by Al-Kosh (also written alqosh).
The village of Al-Kosh, like many places in Iraq, has a history older than history itself. Some of the first mentions of the town come over 2,500 years ago. A predominantly Assyrian town, Al Kosh has a feel to it unlike any feeling i've got from any other town in Iraq. This is not your typical new-ish village with clothes shops, shawarma stalls and CD stores. Instead a myriad of fully pedestrian alleyways meander their ways past centuries old building, gateways and shrines. The are a number of hidden gems tucked away in the labyrinth of streets. One of the more surprising would be the Shrine of Prophet Nahum. The reason this shrine might surprise most is it's a Hebrew shrine, in Iraq (so much for your preconceptions). Although, if you want to go inside the very dilapidated building, you'll have to find the "keymaster" just up the street.
But being a majority Christian town, most of the sites revolve around a Christian theme. The cemetery located in the middle of town has a fair number of interesting graves. There is no secret what religion the deceased are as crosses are seen at every turn. Swiss-cheesing the mountain backdrop of the town are a series of caves. Most of the caves were used as monastic, meditative, hermit-esque type purposes. And the Virgin Mary's Monastery is an impressive (although relatively new) building on the outskirts of town.
But there is no question what the real highlight of the town is. If the Lord of the Rings characters were a bunch of Assyrian monks, the Rabban Hormizd Monastery would have been there home. Essentially carved into the face of the mountain, the monastery seems almost natural in it's surroundings (hard to photo as it blends in so well). Dating back to the 7th century, the complex is still in use today. As such, much of the structure is out of bounds. But the newly renovated church, as well as a few of the caves are open to wander around and hopefully not get lost. The building is impressive. Arguably the most impressive i've seen in Kurdistan. And the views over the desert basin are lovely. The best part is, there is hardly ever anyone up there, so you get the whole thing to yourself. It is not only the highlight of Al Kosh, but one of the hidden treasures of Northern Iraq.
History, alleyways, surprising shrines, cool cemeteries and magnificent monasteries, Al Kosh really has it all. It can be easily included on a day trip from Dohuk, and that's about the only way to get there as there are no tourist facilities or public transport options. I have yet to get really excited about a place in Kurdistan. But Al Kosh is about as close as i figure i will get.
You can read more by Joe here: http://www.joestrippin.blogspot.com/.
More by Joe ScarangellaIraq (Kurdistan Region)
Stumblin' over History
Goin' without Knowin'
Fallin' in Northern Iraq
Charmed by Koya
Doublin' Up on Dohuk
Za-kho, Za-kho, Off to the Bridge I Go
Divine Lunchin' (Mar Mattai)
Shaqlawan Sugar Coatin'
A Day at the Museums (Erbil)
Parkin' it in Erbil
Suly the Sequel (Sulaymaniyah)
Duckin' into Dukan
Crackin' the Citadel (Erbil)
Takin' the High Road (Dohuk - Erbil)
Iraq's B-Side (Amedi)
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