Islamic architecture has been perhaps one of the most culturally significant typologies throughout history. Not only do the buildings themselves serve as centers for community and social services, but their designs reflect Muslim beliefs and morals, and reveal the rich history of nations in the Middle East.
The al-Nouri Mosque is located at the heart of Mosul’s old city in Iraq. Originally constructed in 1170 CE, the mosque complex and its adjacent prayer hall has an extensive history of renovations but ultimately was destroyed in the Battle of Mosul in 2017.
According to written sources, the ancient mosque complex of the 12th century featured a prayer hall and a school, but contained no clear information as to the school’s location within the complex. The minaret is believed to have been built at the same time with the prayer hall and the school, however, there are no written sources attesting this. In the 19th century, Al-Nuri ordered the construction of several buildings including the hospice, the school, his residence, and the ziyarah 28- also known as Al Nuri’s tomb. The minaret was called “al-Hadba”, or “The hunchback” in Arabic due to its silhouette appearing as a man bowing. Its design featured seven bands of decorative brickwork in complex geometric patterns. The al-Nouri complex stood out from the city’s skyline, becoming a symbol not only of Mosul but of Iraq.
The prayer hall, the most important building on the site, is not well documented from its original state. Although scholars still debate over its exact size and shape, it is unanimously believed that the hall presented a hypostyle structure with Moslawi marble octagonal columns that contained inscriptions from the Quran. The number of bays in the original site is still unknown as well.
In 1925, the Sunni Endowment planned to renovate the entire complex, which included an interior renovation, demolishing some buildings on the site, and the addition of fences inside the courtyard, which was then transformed into a garden.
Several further interventions were carried out between the 1940s and 2000, including the paving and modernization of the courtyard and the construction of new ablutions. The most important intervention, which was carried out between 1945-1950, is the demolition of the prayer hall and its reconstruction to a new plan, with new dimensions, and with new architectural features. This modernized prayer hall is the one that is recognized by Moslawis as their place of prayer and worship.
Before 2014, the Sunni Endowment had plans to expand the complex beyond its original perimeter by purchasing properties around the complex. This plan was abandoned due to the unstable security that the country experienced during that period.
Due to recent conflict, Mosul became the stage of several battles that, in 2017, left the city in ruins, its heritage sites reduced to rubble, religious monuments and cultural antiquities damaged, and thousands of its inhabitants displaced. The Al-Nouri Mosque was no exception. The complex was severely damaged, and the famous minaret and the prayer hall were destroyed.
In 2018, the United Arab Emirates, UNESCO, and Iraq, came together to sign a historic agreement to work together and rebuild the cultural heritage of Mosul, including the reconstruction of the al-Nouri Mosque and its minaret. The project is currently underway and will also include public gardens, a memorial site, and a museum. Currently, the site has been cleared and the Al-Nouri Complex has been stabilized with the invaluable support of the Governorate of Niniveh, The Ministry of
Culture of Iraq, the Sunni Endowment, and the Mayorship of Mosul.
The reconstruction of this important landmark of the city is of utmost importance to send a strong signal of resilience and hope, as a first step towards social cohesion and reconciliation in the post-conflict Iraq. Historical sites and monuments are not only a scientific tool of knowledge, but they also represent a powerful symbol of belonging, community, and identity, whose rehabilitation will facilitate recovering the memory of the ‘Moslawis’ that once felt part of a vibrant and emerging city.
This project is part of the initiative “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, launched by the Director-General of UNESCO in February 2018 as the Organization’s response for the recovery of one of Iraq’s iconic cities. As part of the initiative, the Conventual Church
of Our Lady of the Hour and the Al-Tahera Church will be rebuilt with the financial support of the United Arab Emirates. The “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative also includes the rehabilitation of other parts of the Old City of Mosul and focuses on supporting quality education and revitalizing Mosul's cultural and intellectual life. More information about these restorations can be found, here.