Hewler (Officially: Erbil/Arbil) is the largest city and capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It is located 88 km east of Mosul and has a permanent population of approximately 1.5 million as of 2013.
The name Erbil was mentioned in Sumerian holy writings of third millennium BC as Urbilum, Urbelum or Urbillum, which appears to originate from Hurrian Arbilum, who inhbited the area. Later, the Akkadians and Assyrians by a folk etymology rendered the name as arba'ū ilū to mean four gods. The city became a centre for the worship of the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ishtar. In classical times the city became known by its Aramaic name, Arbela. Today, the modern Kurdish name of the city is Hewler.
Urban life at Hewlêr can be dated back to at least 6000 BC, and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Arbil. In the early part of the 3rd millennium BC, the Hurrians from Asia Minor were the first to establish Urbilum and expand their rule to parts of northern Mesopotamia. The city became an integral part of Assyria from the 25th century BC to the 7th century BC, but after it lost its independence at the end of the 7th century BC, both Assyria and the city of Hewler were under the rule of many regional powers in turn, including the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians and Greeks. Following the Arab Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia, the Arabs dissolved Assyria (then known as Assuristan/Athura) as a geo-political entity in the mid-7th century AD, and during medieval times the city came to be ruled by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks.
Hewler's archaeological museum houses a large collection of pre-Islamic artifacts, and is a center for archaeological projects in the area.
In July 2014 it was appointed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The modern town of Hewler stands on a tell topped by an Ottoman fort. During the Middle Ages, Erbil became a major trading centre on the route between Baghdad and Mosul, a role which it still plays today with important road links to the outside world.
Today, the Kurds form the largest ethnic group in the city, with smaller numbers of Arabs, Assyrians, Turcoman, Armenians and Mandeans also extant.
[ii] http://www.erbiltourism2014.com/, retrieved September 1, 2014
In a city the size of Hewler, there are many restaurants offering various versions of Kurdish foods. For a lighter snack, many sandwich shops are located near the Citadel and bazaar. Although few in number, Western-style food places do exist, as well as some places offering international cuisine of various origins including Asian and German foods.
Qalat Citadel - This large mound rising from the arth in the city center is the site of some very old civilizations. It is mostly like a ghost town, since in 2007 most occupants were evicted, where visitors can see how ancient people lived. Many of the houses have exquisite architectural features that are being restored and will be opened to the public at the end of the revitalization project.
Khanzad Castle - Built for the Kurdish princess Khanzad in the 18th century, this imposing castle (located on top of a hill), is a mere 20-minute ride outside of Erbil, reached from the main Masif Salahaddin Road, overlooking beautiful mountains and vistas.
Mubarak Ben Ahmed Sharaf-Aldin Statue (Citadel) – Lived 1169-1239 known as Ibn Almustawfi, a historian and a minister of Erbil in the era of Sultan Muzafardin, Ibn Alumustawfi was born in Erbil. He has written in several areas, history, literature and language. His masterpiece is a four volume books of History of Erbil.
Kurdish Textile Museum - Learn how beautiful rugs are handmade by the locals as you view on-site demonstrations and visit the store to purchase a souvenir.
Erbil Civilization Museum - Located just opposite of the City Hall, this museum shares the heritage, history and culture of Kurdistan and the Erbil life. Located in the city centre opposite the City Hall, it is divided into three historical sections. Antiques are exhibited according to eras starting from ancient periods until advanced ages. The origin of some exhibits goes back to 5,000 B.C. and reflects the patterns and ways of life in Kurdistan and Iraq.
A rich library is adjacent to the Museum. It is considered among the most prestigious historical libraries of the city.
Minaret Park - This park features the Mudhafaria Minaret, estimated to be 800 years old. The park also include some beautiful landscapes and water pools.
Qaysari Market - This huge bazaar is located just south of the Citadel. Locals and tourists alike can shop for just about anything books to clothes to honey and cheese.
Sami Abdul Rahman Park - This is the largest park located in Erbil, and a great place to take children for a picnic on grassy grounds. Small boat rentals are offered on the ponds.
Mulla Afandi Mosque - The Citadel also houses a mosque, which was, presumably, the main site for religious devotion among the Citadel’s Muslim families. It is the Mulla Afandi Mosque, named after Mulla Afandi, a prominent Kurdish cleric from the city who lived around the turn of the last century.
Central Square - The central square in Erbil is, as in many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cities, the centre of urban life. Bounded by the citadel to the north and the Qaysari Bazaar to the east, the open spaces and the fountain in the centre of the square allow it to act as a natural gathering place for shoppers and strollers, as well as workers from the surrounding shops, stores, offices and mosques. In the afternoon the place really comes to life with men having tea and smoking waterpipes, children and families playing in the square, and dozens of vendors selling snacks and small goods to passers-by.
Franso Hariri Stadium - is a multi-purpose stadium in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. It is currently used mostly for football matches and also has facilities for athletics. The stadium has an official capacity of 28,000, making it the 3rd-largest in Iraq. The stadium was built on an old airfield in 1956 and was redeveloped in 1992. The stadium was home to the old Brusk club (renamed Al-Shurta Erbil) and was named the Erbil Stadium up until 2001. It was renamed the Martyr Franso Hariri Stadium in honor of the assassinated governor Franso Hariri, who supported efforts to renovate the stadium.
Choli Minaret - is considered to be one of the most prestigious landmarks of Erbil City. It is 22 meters high and just 1 kilometer south of Erbil’s Citadel. Built in 1128-1138 AD during the rule of Sultan Mudhaffar Al-Din Called, it is also Al-Mudhafariah Minaret. The local inhabitants refer to it as ‘Choli’ because it was far from the city. Truly fascinating for those interested in local history.
Ainkawa - is an Assyrian (Christian) suburb of Erbil. It is sometimes referred to as the "Assyrian Quarter" of Erbil. Ankawa has many archaeological sites, including "The Hill," which was recorded as an archaeological site in Iraq in 1945. It is also home to St Joseph's Cathedral - a Chaldean Catholic church
Syriac Heritage Museum - his worthwhile little museum showcases the culture and history of the Syriac Christian peoples of Kurdistan. The collection consists of displays of traditional dress, household utensils and farming implements.
Shopping Malls - Just like the nearby Arab Gulf states, Iraqi society is increasingly becoming shopaholic, with large, Dubai-esque malls springing up like mushrooms. Hungry for the latest international brands, American cinema-culture and fast-food, Erbil’s residents and visitors have the choice of around a dozen malls – and that number is growing by the day. Popular malls – with sometimes, odd names – include Family Mall (the city’s largest) on 100M Ring Road, Majidi Mall on Kasnazan Road and Royal Mall on Shoresh Street. Take a seat in one of the malls’ cafes, order a cappuccino or mocha, and watch this multi-cultural country empty its wallets in Iraq’s shopping capital.
Any internet search will reveal that there are many hotels in Hewler offering visitors a variety of accommodations from low-range to high-end and many with 4-5 star reviews. For tourists looking for a luxury vacation, try the Cristal Grand Hotel with its beautiful ornate wooden accents, on-site lounge and restaurant, and exquisite ballrooms and spas. For families or small groups, the Erbil Oscar Hotel offers nice guestrooms with simple furnishings and a variety of bedroom arrangements to suit various needs.
For backpackers, it may be possible to camp in certain areas of Hewler, but designated spaces are not prevalent.
[i] Virtual tourist
[ii] Wikipedia, Thee Free Encyclopedia
[iii] http://www.erbiltourism2014.com, retrieved September 1, 2014
[vi] Lonely planet
Hewler has a bustling international airport, allowing travelers from around the world to easily access this capital of Kurdistan Iraq from many countries. A few bus companies offer trips crossing borders from the cities of Cizre, Diyarbakir, and Istanbul, Turkey. Entering Iraq by bus takes much less time than exiting, due to international customs checks.
Once in Hewler, ground transportation is available via rental car, hired taxi, and local bus. Near the citadel visitors often travel by foot.