Mosul: The city of the two springs


The cradle of civilisation has been turned into a pile of rubble. We are forced to stand by and watch as invaluable monuments of myriad religious traditions and historical dynasties are being wiped out.

As we look on in awe and horror, and when we follow news reports about the former ISIL and now rebranded Islamic State (IS) and their siege of Mosul, it seems that all we can do is remember what once was, and try to protect what still remains. This is the story of Mosul, from its origins to its now blood-ridden reality.

Geographic and historical background

Mosul is a city in northern Iraq, some 465 km from Baghdad with a population of approximately three million people. It is the second largest city in Iraq and is located on the banks of the Tigris River. It is known for its trade links with neighbouring countries such as Syria and Turkey. Mosul residents speak North Mesopotamian Arabic (also known as Maslawi). This dialect has its own special features and has played a major role in preserving the identity of the city. The residents of Mosul are mostly Sunni Muslims and Christians who are descendants from the Assyrian and Chaldean peoples.

Mosul was originally the historical city of Nineveh. The city of Nineveh was established on the left bank of Tigris River during the Assyrian era. Its Christian residents gradually moved to the right side of the river from the 2nd through the 6th century AD to protect themselves from impending Persian Sassanian attacks. In the Christian writings Nineveh is named after Isaac of Nineveh, who was born and raised in Western Nineveh.

After the Arab Islamic conquests in the 7th century AD, Arab Muslims lived in Mosul together with Christians and Jews. 

Renowned Islamic geographer Yaqout Al-Hamawi once called Mosul Al-Hadba, or the “the hunchback”, because of the pronounced bend in the Tigris River at its location. It was also called Om Al-Rabien or “the city of the two springs” because of its fair weather in both spring and autumn.

Mosul is famous for harvesting grains and beets. This renown gives it another moniker, the breadbasket of Iraq. Oil is present in Mosul in the oilfields of Ain Zalah, Batma, located in a mountainous rugged area, in addition to the Sufaya oilfield that is near the Syria-Iraq border.

The University of Mosul is one of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in Iraq. The university was founded in April 1967, and is considered one of the largest educational and research centres in the Middle East.

(photo: hanein)

Religious sites

The Mosque of the Prophet Younis (Jonah) served as a refuge where ascetics congregated is located on the eastern side of Tigris River. The mosque is also known as “the Repentance Mosque”. In 1365, the burial place of the Prophet Younis was uncovered, thus lending his name to the site. ISIL closed the doors of the mosque to worshipers entering to pray, and on 24 July 2014 the building was destroyed.

The Mosque of the Prophet Younis (photo: ninwapress)

The Mosque of the Prophet Younis (photo: shattalarab)

Video: bombing of the shrine of the Prophet Younis

The Great Nuriddin Mosque is located in the middle of Mosul and was built by Nuriddin Zanki between 1170 and 1172. The most notable vestige of the mosque is its minaret which stands at 54 meters high, leaning slightly to the side like the Tower of Pisa. This feature also earned it the name Al-Hadba, or the hunchback.

The Great Nuriddin Mosque (photo: alboraq)

The Umayyad Mosque is the oldest mosque in Mosul on the eastern side of the city and was built during the reign of the caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab in the year 637, only 16 years after the official date of the advent of Islam.

The Mosque of Prophet Seth was built in 1791 beside the burial place of the Prophet which was discovered earlier in 1647. The radical jihadists of IS also destroyed this mosque.

The Mosque of Prophet Seth (photo: iccdc)

The Mosque of Prophet Seth (photo: iccdc)

Video: bombing of the shrine of the Prophet Seth

Mashhad Al-Imam Awn Al-Din is a shrine located south east of Mosul and was built by the Atabeg (a Seljuk provincial governor) of Mosul Badr Al-Din Lu’lu in 1248. The mausoleum was constructed out of stone, marble, rubble and brick.

Mashhad Al-Imam Awn Al-Din (photo: blogspot)

Video: bombing of the shrine of Al-Imam Awn Al-Din bin al-Hussein bin Ali bin Abi Talib

Church of St. Thomas (Mar Touma) is now an Orthodox Cathedral and dates back to 1168. It is named after St. Thomas the Apostle who preached the Gospel in the East.

Church of St. Thomas (Mar Touma)

The Ancient Immaculate Church dates back to the 7th century and is considered one of the most ancient churches in Mosul.

Ancient Immaculate Church (photo: bakhdida)

The New Church of the Immaculate is located in Maidan neighbourhood in Mosul and was built near the Ancient Immaculate Church in 1865 and renovated in 1969.

(photo: panoramio)

Chaldean Church of Maskanta is located near Shamoun Al-Safa (St. Peter) Church. It was also bombed by the ISIL.

The Clock Church (Al-Sa’a) is a Latin church built in 1862. It is named after a clock donated by the wife of Napoleon III and is known for its fine marble and stained glass.

The Clock Church

The Mar Matte Monastery is located 30 km east of Mosul on the top of a high mountain, Mount Maqloub. It was built between the 4th and the 5th centuries AD. It includes a very important library that contains valuable manuscripts from the 11th and 12th centuries AD.

Mar Matte monastery

St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis) is in north east of Mosul and most of its buildings date back to the 19th century. Pilgrims from different parts of the North visit it annually each spring,

St. George’s Monastery (Mar Gurguis) (photo: bakhdida)

The Monastery of Mar Behnam, also called Deir Al-Jubb, was built in the 12th or 13th century. The monastery is a grand fort-like building that stands next to the tomb of Mar Behnam, a prince who was killed by the Sassanians, thought to have happened during the 4th century.

Monastery of Mar Behnam (photo: bakhdida)

The Syrian Catholic Diocese is located in Maidan neighbourhood in Mosul and was built around 1863.

There are other historical sites in Mosul such as the Hill of Prophet Younis, also called “The Hill of Repentance”. In addition to the monumental site is “Tel El Remah” which goes back to the Assyrian era and includes an Assyrian temple which was built in 1800 BC. The city also has the old walls of Mosul which extend 12 km and contain 12 gates. Finally, there is the Castle of Bashtabia which was built in the early 13th century. It played an important role in the besieging of Mosul in 1743.

History will record accurately the barbaric destruction of all signs of progress and civilisation in Mosul. The Islamic State is changing the course of the city and indeed of history, sending it back to the dark ages.