al-Hadba' Minaret: A Beacon for 700 Years

On June 21, 2017, as Iraqi forces approached the city of Mosul following years of civil conflict in Iraq, Islamic State militants detonated explosives, destroying the historic and beloved Al-Hadba' Minaret and the Great Mosque of al-Nuri.

IRQ Al Hadba Minaret historical imageWorld Monuments Fund

The Hunchback

Built under the Seljuk ruler Nur al-Din in 1172, the al-Hadba' Minaret was part of a religious complex that included a madrassa and Great Mosque of al-Nuri, named after its patron. The minaret stood 45 meters tall, decorated with ornamental brickwork along its cylindrical shaft and square base. Overtime, the minaret came to be known by locals as al-Hadba’, or the hunchback, because of its pronounced tilt.

IRQ Al Hadba Minaret historical image 3 (1172)World Monuments Fund

IRQ Al Hadba Minaret historical image 2 (1172)World Monuments Fund

Five times a day, a muezzin ascended the spiral stairway and sang the call to prayer from the balcony of al-Hadba'. By the time the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta visited the city in the fourteenth century, the minaret was already leaning noticeably and was known by its nickname, Hunchback, which remained until its destruction.

In the 1940s, as part of a renovation campaign sponsored by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities, the mosque and the madrassa were dismantled and rebuilt according to a new plan. The minaret remained as one of the few original elements of the medieval complex, a landmark of Mosul, towering over the cityscape. So iconic was the minaret that its figure has adorned the Iraqi 10,000-dinar banknote since 2003.

Al-Hadba' Minaret on Iraqi Dinari bill. by World Monuments FundWorld Monuments Fund

Al-Habda' Minaret, view from mosque in 2009. (1172)World Monuments Fund

The minaret was first included on the 2010 World Monuments Watch to call attention to worries that the structure needed conservation. A primary concern was having structural engineers analyze the minaret's stability. In 2012, UNESCO and the Governorate of Nineveh agreed to collaborate on a project to study and conserve the al-Hadba’ Minaret. In 2014, the launch of the project was announced, only days before Mosul was captured by the Islamic State.

In October 2017, WMF announced the 2018 Watch, which included the minaret to highlight the devastation to Mosul and other places ravaged by ISIS. No building can ever truly represent the terrible circumstances of armed conflict, but the loss of the minaret was a stark reminder of the difficulties facing Iraq in rebuilding these communities in the liberated areas of the country.

The World Monuments Watch calls attention to cultural heritage sites around the world at risk from the forces of nature or the impact of social, political, and economic change. In the case of al-Hadba', in 2010, the Watch was meant as inspiration to address physical conservation needs. In 2018, it is a cautionary tale of the fragility of places, the history they represent, and the communities that cherish them.

View of the minaret from below, 2009., 1172, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Fissures on the pedestal of the minaret, 2009., 1172, From the collection of: World Monuments Fund
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Pedestal and base of the minaret, 2009. (1172)World Monuments Fund

Street in Mosul after deliberate bombing and destruction. (1172)World Monuments Fund

Escalation of Civil Conflict

In 2014, with the escalation of civil conflict in Iraq, all plans for the stabilization of the minaret were indefinitely delayed. In July of that same year, the Islamic State seized Mosul by force and chose the mosque of al-Nuri as the site from which to proclaim the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. Those residents of Mosul who did not flee toiled under a harrowing occupation for three years, liberated only after a brutal nine-month battle in 2016-2017. The fight for Mosul reduced much of the city to ruins and displaced more than 700,000 civilians, most now living in temporary camps. The al-Hadba’ minaret was another victim of the battle: on June 21, 2017, as Iraqi forces approached, Islamic State militants set and detonated explosives to destroy the minaret and the mosque. Many other mosques and shrines were deliberately destroyed in Mosul and throughout Iraq over the course of the conflict.

al-Hadba' Minaret (2017)World Monuments Fund

The minaret's square base in the aftermath of the attacks. (1172)World Monuments Fund

Scorched vehicles are left at the foot of the destroyed Al-Hadba' Minaret. (1172)World Monuments Fund

Sections of the once Great Mosque have been left crumbled in the aftermath of the attacks. (1172)World Monuments Fund

Street in Mosul in the aftermath of deliberate bombing and destruction, 2017. (1172)World Monuments Fund

The process of recovery and reconstruction will allow healing for the traumatized community of Mosul. (1172)World Monuments Fund

The al-Hadba' Minaret was included on the in the 2018 Watch to bring attention to the special role that culture plays amidst post-conflict reconstruction and social healing.

Calls for the reconstruction of the al-Hadba’ Minaret were launched immediately after its destruction, to serve as an emblem of rebirth of the city and continuity of cultural symbols. The 2018 Watch calls for dialogue to establish a shared vision among all stakeholders, integrating the rebuilding of the mosque and the minaret with the process of social recovery for its community, and ensuring active local participation.

Billowing smoke darkens the sky following attacks on the Al-Hadba' Minaret. (1172)World Monuments Fund

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