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Collapse and Rebirth of Cultural Heritage

The Case of Syria and Iraq


Edited By Lorenzo Kamel

Cultural heritage and illicit trafficking in the Middle East are two key topics of our time.  The  book  sheds  light  on  both  aspects,  and  identifies  the  need  to  democratize  cultural heritage, by giving greater control to local communities. It also investigates the link between local hotbeds of conflict and violence in countries such as Syria and Iraq,  as  well  as  war  economics,  transnational  criminal  networks  and  the  politics  of  deliberate destruction and theft of cultural heritage. Finally, the chapters analyze the impact  of  non-violent  and  violent  non-state  actors,  fragile  states,  forced  migration,  environmental  degradation,  as  well  as  how  local  and  international  institutions  have  reacted to the dramatic events which the region and its inhabitants have experienced in recent years
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Chapter 3: The Italian Response to the Cultural Heritage Emergency in Iraq (Stefano de Martino)


Stefano de Martino

Chapter 3: The Italian Response to the Cultural Heritage Emergency in Iraq

3.1Iraq and its archaeological heritage

The territory that now corresponds to the modern state of Iraq was once the homeland of the most important ancient Near Eastern civilizations. This is where the ruins of many famous cities, such as Uruk, Ur, Babylon, Assur, Nimrud, Nineveh and many others, are found.

The first discoveries of the Mesopotamian cultures date back to the middle of the nineteenth century, when Paul Émile Botta, the French consul at Mosul at that time, and his English colleague Austin Henry Layard, the British ambassador in Istanbul, started digging in northern Mesopotamia. As is well known, the magnificent sculptures and reliefs found at Nimrud and Nineveh by these two archaeologists were sent, respectively, to the Louvre and to the British Museum.

The Ottoman Empire showed no interest in pre-Islamic antiquities until Osman Hamdi Bey became the director of the Imperial Museum in Constantinople and drafted the first law on the protection of cultural heritage within the Empire, promulgated in 1884. From that time onwards, antiquities were no longer exported without the permission of the Imperial Museum.

We are unable to say how much interest and knowledge the local people had of Mesopotamian antiquities at that time. Gertrude Bell reported that boys living near Nimrud used to deface the Neo-Assyrian reliefs (Rothfield 2009: 6); however, it is known that families living...

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