Italian-Iraqi Institutes in Baghdad

The scientific programme that brought the Centro Scavi Torino to Iraq in 1963, focussed on the relationships between Graeco-Roman and Near Eastern cultures, was soon joined by broader research programmes addressing the development of ancient Mesopotamian civilisations. The methodological approach, based on the collaboration with the local authorities and aimed at the optimal management of the cultural heritage both on a technical and on a social level, was defined since the outset of the work of the Centro Scavi Torino in the country. These programmes were implemented in 1969 with the formal creation, through a protocol between the two countries, of the Italian-Iraqi Institute of Archaeology and the Italian-Iraqi Centre for Restoration. These represented an important example of international cooperation with a strong commitment in the fields of archaeological research, conservation, and restoration.

Over the years, the Italian-Iraqi Institutes have promoted campaigns of study and architectural and photogrammetric survey, the restoration and conservation of some of the most important Iraqi monuments and sites, as well as interventions aimed at recovering materials stolen from the Iraqi museums after the First Gulf War (B.R.I.L.A. Project). Their activities were suspended in 2003, after the looting suffered amidst the disorders that accompanied the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Inaugurated in 2016 in the heart of the old city, the Italian-Iraqi Cultural Centre for Archaeology and Restoration in Baghdad is now the heir Italian-Iraqi Institute of Archaeology and the Italian-Iraqi Centre for Restoration.


Project: Photogrammetric survey and restoration of the Taq-Kisra (Khosraw’s palace)
Site: Salman Pak (Ctesiphon)
Directors: Giorgio Gullini, Andrea Bruno, Roberto Parapetti

The city of Ctesiphon is situated on the left bank of the Tigris (approximately 20 km southeast of Baghdad), near the present village of Salman Pak, facing Seleucia. In 141 BCE the Arsacid Parthians conquered Babylonia and chose Ctesiphon as the king’s winter residence. The site is famous for the remains of a vast vaulted hall (spanning 26 m and 31 m high), the Taq-Kisra, or palace of Khosraw II, king of the Iranian Sassanian dynasty, which from 224 succeeded that of the Parthians. The city was conquered by the Arabs in 637, and tradition has it that the conquerors gathered in prayer in the famous hall. In 763, when Caliph al-Mansour founded Baghdad, the new political and administrative centre of Islam, the city was abandoned. The brick façade of the great hall, opening towards east onto a large court, remained intact until the end of the 19th century, when the northern half of the façade and the central arch collapsed. Most parts of the great parabolic barrel vault, made from baked bricks without a bearing crossmember, according to the ancient Mesopotamian tradition, and the south semi-façade, which is missing only the top part, have survived. Nothing remains of the magnificent decorations described by historical sources.

Since 1964, the Italian Mission in Seleucia has carried out excavation soundings in Khosraw’s palace, surveyed it, performed a photogrammetric survey of the vault’s intrados and began the conservative restoration of the surfaces. In 1966, a restoration project drafted by A. Bruno was submitted to the Antiquities Department; the project, unimplemented, had the aim of consolidating the surviving façade in order to remove the inappropriate concrete base added in 1922 and the buttress that had been built in 1942.

‘Aqar Quf

Project: Study of the ‘Aqar Quf site and photogrammetric survey of the ziqqurrat
Site: ‘Aqar Quf
Director: Giorgio Gullini

Aqar Quf, 20 km southwest of Baghdad, is the modern name of the ancient site of Dur-Kurigalzu, fortified city and residence of the kings of the Kassite dynasty in the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The best-known architectural evidence of the city founded by Kurigalzu I (1415-1390 BCE) include the remains of the three temples and of the palace, only partially unearthed and dominated by the massive ziqqurrat, the terraced building of the main temple. The remains of the monument, with a square base measuring 80 m on each side, still possess the thick baked brick covering that reaches a height of 8 m and the core made of unbaked bricks reaching a maximum height of 47 m. A ramp of stairs on the axis of the south side probably provided access to the terrace at the top, and two more ramps at the corners of the same side probably led to the first terrace.

In 1968, the Centro Scavi Torino’s Laboratory for Photogrammetry produced the photogrammetric survey of the four sides of the monument (C. Sena, Turin Polytechnic University). The distribution in the core structure, which still contains traces of straw mats, vegetable fibre ropes for distributing loads and ventilation conduits, deduced from the photogrammetric restitution graphs, allowed the levels of the three original terraces to be recognized; a temple was probably located at the top of the highest one. On the basis of the tapering of the preserved outer walls and of the stairs’ slope it was possible to complete, with a good degree of approximation, a reconstruction of the monument’s original appearance.

On the basis of studies carried out on the ziqqurrat thanks to a complete photogrammetric survey, in 1975 proposals for the conservation of the precarious unbaked brick remains of the monument’s core were submitted to the Antiquities Department (unfulfilled). Such proposals included the construction of a steel structure closed off by transparent elements that would reproduced the shapes and volumes of the ancient building as proposed by the relevant studies and inner walking tours. The structure would have contained visitor’s passageways suspended to the main structures (R. Parapetti).


Project: Restoration of the al-Hadbah minaret
Site: Mosul
Director: Andrea Bruno

The minaret adjacent to the Great Mosque of Mosul (Jama’ an-Nuri), commonly known as “hadbah” (leaning) was built during the reign of the Atabegs of Mosul (12th –13th century). The reason for this deformation has been attributed to the plasticization of the chalky mortar cementing the bricks, with which it is entirely built, subjected to the area’s prevailing northwesterly winds. Although to a lesser extent, two other minarets in Mosul display the same phenomenon. Al-Hadbah has a cylindrical cross section and is 48 m tall including the cubic base that is 6 m tall, and is equipped with an internal spiral staircase that reaches the balcony under the lantern. In 1967, a project for consolidating and restoring the monument was drafted with the aid of Fondedile of Naples. The project, proposing the use of “root posts” in the foundations and a micro-fencework of the erected parts, was submitted by the Centro Scavi Torino to the Antiquities Department. The project was partly implemented in 1974 by the same building firm with funding provided by local authorities, overriding the veto of the Ba’ath party’s Revolutionary Council on awarding contracts for the restoration of cultural heritage to foreign firms. Probably due to this partial implementation, only a few years later the base body suffered new damage that would require further intervention.


Project: Study of the ‘Anah site and photogrammetric survey of the minaret
Site: ‘Anah
Director: Roberto Parapetti

The site, frequented at least since the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, is mentioned in Assyrian texts of the 9th century BCE with the name of Hanat. It is situated approximately 300 km northwest of Baghdad, along one of the main roads connecting central Mesopotamia and Syria since antiquity. The centre knew its greatest expansion in the 17th century, when it occupied a large river island and the two riverbanks for at least seven miles.

In 1978 the area was destined to be submerged by the water basin planned along the Euphrates. The beautiful minaret of the ‘Anah main mosque, at the centre of the island, which date back to the 11th century, is a rare example of Seljukid architecture in Iraq. It had become the symbol of the city, and Iraq’s central authorities decided, upon its previous dismantlement into transportable sections, to move it to the site of New ‘Anah, a few kilometers upstream. Unfortunately the minaret was bombed in 2004. The monument’s photogrammetric survey and the documentation of the island’s traditional architecture were performed by the Institutes of Baghdad.


Project: Study of the Church of Kirkuk’s qal’a
Site: Kirkuk
Directors: Carlo Leopardi, Roberto Parapetti

The city of Kirkuk, 145 km north of Baghdad, lies at the feet of the Zagros mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan and has been tied to oil extraction since 1927. The urban area is characterized by a large mound, produced by the overlapping of stratified settlements since remote times; it is generally believed that the most intense phases of its evolution date back to the Assyrian period. In the Middle Ages it assumed the current configuration of a qal’a, a fortified citadel of the type to which that of the more famous Aleppo, in Syria, belongs.

In 1984, the surviving structures of an ancient church with three naves and colonnades made from local marble were documented. The building, probably abandoned before World War II, displayed a phase of total reconstruction dating back to between the 19th and early 20th century (C. Leopardi, R. Parapetti). With the almost total levelling of the top of the qal’a in the late 1990s, most of the historical buildings, including the church, were definitely destroyed.

Islamic monuments in Baghdad

Project: The study and documentation of the Islamic monuments in Baghdad
Site: Baghdad
Director: Roberto Parapetti

In cooperation with the Antiquities Department, a programme of studies aiming at bringing the knowledge of Islamic architecture in Baghdad up to date began in 1971. A first general survey was performed, with new surveys of religious, cemeterial and secular monuments that survived in the two sectors of the city’s historical centre, al-Karkh on the west bank of the Tigris and ar-Rusafah on the east bank. The documented monuments cover the entire development of Islamic art in Mesopotamia, from the late Abbasid period to the Ottoman period (V. Strika, J. Khalil). As static consolidation was necessary, the Awqaf, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, turned to the Institutes of Baghdad for the documentation on the tomb of ‘Omar as-Suhrawardi (1973, R. Parapetti), on the Hayder Khanah mosque (1978, R. Parapetti, C. Leopardi) and on the sanctuary of Kadhimiyyah, on which a photogrammetric survey was also carried out (1988, R. Parapetti). In 1982, upon the Antiquities Department’s request, a first project for the creation of a “City of Culture” was implemented. The concerned area is the strip of land along the right bank of the Tigris between the Mustansiriyah and what is known as the Abbasid Palace, a complex of buildings dating back to between the 19th century and the 1930s, the Qasr as-Seray, the administrative quarter of Ottoman Iraq. The buildings’ documentation and the project for requalifying the area (R. Parapetti, C. Leopardi) determined the passage of those buildings, which over time were handed down to various public administrations (Justice, Finance, Interior, Education), to the administration of the Ministry of Culture. Only some of the requalification measures included in the project were completed. 1993 saw the commencement of a new programme for documenting the architecture of traditional houses in Baghdad, spurred by the impending systematic demolition by the local administration of entire old quarters in the historical centre. The first sample of urban fabric examined was that of the al-Khraimat quarter, that, founded in the middle of the 19th century on the right bank of the Tigris just outside the Medieval walls, contained several buildings of considerable interest and of various types (R. Parapetti, R. Mrawuth Ibrahim). The events that followed the Gulf War prevented the completion of the documentation of the adjacent Shawaqa quarter.