by Joe Scarangella
For those familiar with guidebooks and other such travel paraphernalia, a common theme of recommendations should be obvious. You can damn near bet your bottom dollar that for any given city in any given country somewhere in the "recommended sights" section will be a cathedral, church, mosque, temple and what-have-you place of religious worship. And why not? They are almost always the most impression architectural site in the city. Well, Erbil (Iraq) may be the exception to the denomination migration.
Perhaps surprisingly, even with Erbil's 8,000 years of history, there isn't much in the way of ancient buildings. And considering it was never an important city, few interesting buildings were ever built. If you couple this with the fact that the former regime wasn't exactly generous with the Kurdish population, it pretty much equates to there is jack all to see other than the Citadel. But there is one new contender vying for the most photogenic honour.
Smack dab downtown, only a stone's throw from the Erbil Citadel is the Jalil Khayat Mosque. By far the biggest in town, it is also, arguably, the city's most impressive. So using my connecting to the Muffti family (kind of like the religious teamsters in Erbil) i finagled myself an invite inside. The privately funded mosque is hardly ancient, it was finished not more than 20 years ago, but beggars can't be choosers. The interior is certainly ornate. However, if you have visited the Blue Mosque (or any other mosque) in Istanbul, Jalil Khayat pales in comparison. There is little time work, except outside, and most of the details seems to have been stencilled. But many windows were imported from Saudi and closely resemble Yemeni design. It was unclear if non-Muslims are allowed to visit under normal conditions (remember, i was invited by a big-wig) But there's no harm in trying. Just don't go during prayers. Even if you don't get inside, the outside is interesting enough in it's fusion of Arabic and Turkish architectural styles.
Not to be outdone, the Christian Assyrian population in the Erbil suburb of Ainkawa, have their own unique building. St. Joseph's Church was finished in 1980. Built in the style of a Babylonian ziggurat, the church is certainly eye-catching. The interior is very ordinary, but have the fun of visiting the church is getting in the gate. Due to violence against minority religions (Christianity being one of them), security is taken fairly seriously. "Where from? Christian? Gun?" is the likely breakdown of the interrogation procedure just to get in. Sadly, no pat downs.
Perhaps neither of these building is particularly life changing. Nor would they make a bucket list of "places to see before you die". But they are both cool enough, and with a day or so to spare in Erbil, they could help pass the time.
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'
Al Kosh, of Course!
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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