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Hewlêr ھەولێر

Erbil Montage 2014.png
Clockwise, from top: Downtown, Mudhafaria Minaret, Statue of Ibn al-Mustawfi, Citadel of Erbil
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Location of Erbil
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Erbil (Iraq)
Coordinates: 36°11′28″N44°00′33″E / 36.191188°N 44.009189°E / 36.191188; 44.009189 Coordinates: 36°11′28″N44°00′33″E / 36.191188°N 44.009189°E / 36.191188; 44.009189
Country Flag of Iraq.svg  Iraq
Autonomous regionFlag of Kurdistan.svg  Kurdistan Region
Governorate Erbil Governorate
   Mayor Nihad Salim Latif Qoja
  Total115 km2 (44 sq mi)
  Land113 km2 (44 sq mi)
  Water2 km2 (0.8 sq mi)
390 m (1,280 ft)
  Total879,000 [1]
Time zone UTC+3 (AST)
  Summer (DST) UTC+3 (not observed)
Postal code
Area code(s) 066

Erbil (Arabic : أربيل; Hewlêr Kurdish : ھەولێر; Arbela Syriac : ܐܪܒܝܠܐ), known in ancient history as Arbela and also spelled Arbil, Arbel and Irbil, is the largest most populated city in Iraqi Kurdistan and capital city of the Kurdistan Region. [2] It is located approximately in the center of Iraqi Kurdistan region and the north of Iraq. [3] It has about 879,000 inhabitants, [1] and Erbil Governorate has a permanent population of 2,009,367 as of 2015. [4]


Human settlement at Erbil may be dated back to the 5th millennium BC, which would make the city one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world. [5] At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Erbil. The earliest historical reference to the region dates to the Third Dynasty of Ur of Sumer, when King Shulgi mentioned the city of Urbilum. The city was later conquered by the Assyrians. [6] [7]

Erbil became an integral part of the kingdom of Assyria by the 21st century BC through to the end of the seventh century BC, after it was captured by the Gutians, and it was known in Assyrian annals variously as Urbilim, Arbela and Arba-ilu. Subsequent to this, it was part of the geopolitical province of Assyria under several empires in turn, including the Median Empire, the Achaemenid Empire (Achaemenid Assyria), Macedonian Empire, Seleucid Empire, Parthian Empire, Roman Assyria and Sasanian Empire (Asōristān), as well as being the capital of the tributary state of Adiabene between the mid-second century BC and early second century AD.

Following the Muslim conquest of Persia, it no longer remained a unitary region, and during the Middle Ages, the city came to be ruled by the Seljuk and Ottoman empires. [8]

Erbil's archaeological museum houses a large collection of pre-Islamic artefacts, particularly the art of Mesopotamia, and is a center for archaeological projects in the area. [9] The city was designated as Arab Tourism Capital 2014 by the Arab Council of Tourism. [10] [11] In July 2014, the Citadel of Arbil was inscribed as a World Heritage site.

The city has an ethnically diverse population of Kurds (the majority ethnic group), Assyrians, Turkmens, Arabs, Yazidis, Shabaks, Mandaeans and Armenians. It is equally religiously diverse, with believers of Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Christianity, Yazidism, Yarsanism, Shabakism and Mandaeism extant in and around Erbil.


The name Erbil was mentioned in Sumerian holy writings of third millennium BC as Urbilum, Urbelum or Urbillum, [7] which appears to originate from Arbilum. [12] Later, the Akkadians and Assyrians by a folk etymology rendered the name as arba'ū ilū to mean (four gods). [12] The city became a centre for the worship of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar. In classical times the city became known as Arbela (Koinē Greek : Ἄρβηλα), from the Syriac form of the name. In Old Persian, the city was called Arbairā. [13]

Today, the modern Kurdish name of the city, Hewlêr, appears to be a corruption of the name Arbel by a series of metatheses of consonants. [12]


Siege of Erbil by the Ilkhanid Mongols in 1258-59 depicted in the Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Departement des Manuscrits, Division Orientale Siege d'Irbil 1258-1259.jpeg
Siege of Erbil by the Ilkhanid Mongols in 1258–59 depicted in the Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Division Orientale
Citadel of Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan Citadel of Hewler (Erbil), Iraqi Kurdistan.jpg
Citadel of Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan
Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph 2005 (Ankawa, Erbil, Iraq).jpg
Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil

Ancient history

The region in which Erbil lies was largely under Sumerian domination from c. 3000 BC, until the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2335–2154 BC) which united all of the Akkadian Semites and Sumerians of Mesopotamia under one rule. Today the Assyrian people, a Syriac-speaking community who claim descent from Akkadian speakers, endure as a minority in northern Iraq, north east Syria, south east Turkey and north west Iran, their population is estimated to be 3.3 million. [14]

The first mention of Erbil in literary sources' comes from the archives of the east Semitic speaking kingdom of Ebla. They record two journeys to Erbil (Irbilum) by a messenger from Ebla around 2300 BC. Later, Erridupizir, king of the language isolate speaking kingdom of Gutium, captured the city in 2150 BC. [15]

The Neo-Sumerian ruler of Ur, Amar-Sin, sacked Urbilum in his second year, c. 1975 BC [7]

Erbil was an integral part of Assyria from around 2050 BC, becoming a relatively important city during the Old Assyrian Empire (1975–1750 BC), Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC) and the Neo Assyrian Empire (935–605 BC), until the last of these empires fell between 612–599 BC, however it remained part of Assyria under Persian, Greek, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid rule until the first half of the 7th century AD.

Under the Median Empire, Cyaxares might have settled a number of people from the Ancient Iranian tribe of Sagartians in the Assyrian cities of Arbela and Arrapha (modern Kirkuk), probably as a reward for their help in the capture of Nineveh. [16] The Persian emperor Cyrus the Great occupied Assyria in 547 BC and established it as an Achaemenid satrapy called in Old Persian Aθurā (Athura), with Arbela as the capital. [17]

The Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia in 331 BC, took place approximately 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Erbil. After the battle, Darius managed to flee to the city, and, somewhat inaccurately, the confrontation is sometimes known as the "Battle of Arbela". Subsequently, Arbela was part of Alexander's Empire. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, Arbela became part of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire.

Erbil became part of the region disputed between Rome and Persia under the Sasanids. The ancient Assyrian kingdom of Adiabene (the Greek form of the Assyrian Ḥadyab) had its centre at Erbil, and the town and kingdom are known in Jewish Middle Eastern history for the conversion of the royal family to Judaism. [18] During the Parthian era to early Sassanid era, Erbil became the capital of the Assyrian state of Adiabene.

Its populace then gradually converted from the Mesopotamian religion between the 1st and 4th centuries to the Chaldean Catholic Church Christianity (and to a lesser degree to the Syriac Orthodox Church), with Pkidha traditionally becoming its first bishop around 104 AD, although the ancient Mesopotamian religion did not die out entirely in the region until the 10th century AD. [19] [20] The metropolitanate of Ḥadyab in Arbela (Syriac: ܐܪܒܝܠArbel) became a centre of eastern Syriac Christianity until late in the Middle Ages. [21]

Medieval history

As many of the Assyrians who had converted to Christianity adopted Biblical (including Jewish) names, most of the early bishops had Eastern Aramaic or Jewish/Biblical names, which does not suggest that many of the early Christians in this city were converts from Judaism. [22] It served as the seat of a Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East. From the city's Christian period come many church fathers and well-known authors in Syriac.

Following the Muslim conquest of Persia, the Sasanid province of Assuristan, of which Erbil made part of, was dissolved, and from the mid 7th century AD the region saw a gradual influx of Muslim peoples, predominantly Arabs, Kurds and Turkic peoples.

The most notable Kurdish tribe in the region were the Hadhbani, of which several individuals also acted as governors for the city from the late 10th century until the 12th century when it was conquered by the Zengids and its governorship given to the Turkic Begtegenids, who retained the city during the Ayyubid era [23] [24] Yaqut al-Hamawi further describes Erbil as being mostly Kurdish-populated in the 13th century. [25]

When the Mongols invaded the Near East in the 13th century, they attacked Arbil for the first time in 1237. They plundered the lower town but had to retreat before an approaching Caliphate army and had to put off the capture of the citadel. [26] After the fall of Baghdad to Hülegü and the Mongols in 1258, the last Begtegenid ruler surrendered to the Mongols, claiming the Kurdish garrison of the city would follow suit; they refused this however, therefore the Mongols returned to Arbil and were able to capture the citadel after a siege lasting six months. [27] [28] Hülegü then appointed an Assyrian Christian governor to the town, and the Syriac Orthodox Church was allowed to build a church.

As time passed, sustained persecutions of Christians, Jews and Buddhists throughout the Ilkhanate began in earnest in 1295 under the rule of Oïrat amir Nauruz, which affected the indigenous Assyrian Christians greatly. [29] This manifested early on in the reign of the Ilkhan Ghazan. In 1297, after Ghazan had felt strong enough to overcome Nauruz's influence, he put a stop to the persecutions.

During the reign of the Ilkhan Öljeitü the Assyrian inhabitants retreated to the citadel to escape persecution. In the Spring of 1310, the Malek (governor) of the region attempted to seize it from them with the help of the Kurds. Despite the Turkic bishop Mar Yahballaha's best efforts to avert the impending doom, the citadel was at last taken after a siege by Ilkhanate troops and Kurdish tribesmen on 1 July 1310, and all the defenders were massacred, including many of the Assyrian inhabitants of the lower town. [30] [31]

However, the city's Assyrian population remained numerically significant until the destruction of the city by the forces of Timur in 1397. [32]

In the Middle Ages, Erbil was ruled successively by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Buwayhids, the Seljuks and then the Turkmen Begtegīnid Emirs of Erbil (1131–1232), most notably Gökböri, one of Saladin's leading generals; they were in turn followed by the Ilkhanids, the Jalayirids, the Kara Koyunlu, the Timurids and the Ak Koyunlu. Erbil was the birthplace of the famous 12th and 13th century Kurdish historians and writers Ibn Khallikan and Ibn al-Mustawfi. Erbil and all of Iraq passed into the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. Erbil was part of the Musul Vilayet in Ottoman Empire for 400 years until World War I, when the Ottomans and their Kurdish and Turcoman allies were defeated by the British Empire.

Modern history

A postcard showing the city of Erbil in 1900 Postcard of the city of Erbil, 1900.jpg
A postcard showing the city of Erbil in 1900

The modern town of Erbil stands on a tell topped by an Ottoman fort. During the Middle Ages, Erbil became a major trading center on the route between Baghdad and Mosul, a role which it still plays today with important road links to the outside world.

Erbil Main Square Erbil mail square.JPG
Erbil Main Square

Today, Erbil is both multi-ethnic and multi-religious, with the Kurds forming the largest ethnic group in the city, with smaller numbers of Arabs, Assyrians, Turcoman, Armenians, Yazidis, Shabaks, Circassians, Kawliya, Iranians and Mandeans also extant.

The parliament of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region was established in Erbil in 1970 after negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mustafa Barzani, but was effectively controlled by Saddam Hussein until the Kurdish uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. The legislature ceased to function effectively in the mid-1990s when fighting broke out between the two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The city was captured by the KDP in 1996 with the assistance of the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The PUK then established an alternative Kurdish government in Sulaimaniyah. KDP claimed that on March 1996 PUK asked for Iran's help to fight KDP. Considering this as a foreign attack on Iraq's soil, the KDP asked Saddam Hussein for help.

The Kurdish Parliament in Erbil reconvened after a peace agreement was signed between the Kurdish parties in 1997, but had no real power. The Kurdish government in Erbil had control only in the western and northern parts of the autonomous region. During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, a United States special forces task force was headquartered just outside Erbil. The city was the scene of celebrations on 10 April 2003 after the fall of the Ba'ath regime.

Erbil Clock Tower Clock of Erbil.jpg
Erbil Clock Tower

During the coalition forces occupation of Iraq, sporadic attacks hit Erbil. Parallel bomb attacks against Eid celebrations killed 109 people on 1 February 2004. [33] Responsibility was claimed by the Ansar al-Sunnah, [33] and stated to be in solidarity with Ansar al-Islam.[ citation needed ] A suicide bombing on 4 May 2005 killed 60 civilians and injured 150 more outside a police recruiting centre. [34]

The Erbil International Airport opened in the city in 2005.

In 2015, the Assyrian Church of the East moved its seat from Chicago to Erbil.


Erbil International Airport is one of Iraq's busiest airports and is near the city. Services includes direct flights to many domestic destinations such as Baghdad international airport. There are international flights from Erbil many countries; such as the Netherlands, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Turkey, Jordan and many more flights elsewhere around the world. There are occasionally seasonal flights from Erbil international airport. Erbil International Airport was briefly closed to international commercial flights in September 2017 by the Iraqi government in retaliation for the Kurdish independence vote but reopened in March 2018. [35] [36]

Another important form of transportation between Erbil and surrounding areas is by bus. Among others, bus services offer connections to Turkey and Iran. A new bus terminal was opened in 2014. [37]

Most of Kurdistan's transportation is with local Taxis, that are operated by private companies and also managed by the government of Kurdistan.

Erbil has a system of five ring roads encirling the city. [38]


Erbil has a Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa), with long, extremely hot summers and mild winters. Summer months are extremely dry, with negligible precipitation between June and September. Winters are rainy, with January being the wettest month. [39]

Climate data for Erbil
Average high °C (°F)12.4
Daily mean °C (°F)7.4
Average low °C (°F)2.4
Average rainfall mm (inches)111
Average rainy days9910941001361062
Average snowy days1000000000001
Average relative humidity (%)75706559422925283144617650
Source #1:, [39] My Forecast for records, humidity, snow and precipitation days [40]
Source #2: What's the Weather, [41] Erbilia [42]


Citadel of Erbil

The Citadel of Erbil is a tell or occupied mound in the historical heart of Erbil, rising between 25 and 32 metres (82 and 105 ft) from the surrounding plain. The buildings on top of the tell stretch over a roughly oval area of 430 by 340 metres (1,410 ft × 1,120 ft) occupying 102,000 square metres (1,100,000 sq ft). It has been claimed that the site is the oldest continuously inhabited town in the world. [43] The earliest evidence for occupation of the citadel mound dates to the 5th millennium BC and possibly earlier. It appears for the first time in historical sources during the Ur III period and gained particular importance during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (10th to 7th centuries BC) period. West of the citadel at Ary Kon quarter, a chamber tomb dating to the Neo-Assyrian Empire period has been excavated. [9] During the Sassanian period and the Abbasid Caliphate, Erbil was an important centre for Assyrian Christianity and the Assyrians. After the Mongols captured the citadel in 1258, Erbil's importance began to decline.

During the 20th century, the urban structure was significantly modified, as a result of which a number of houses and public buildings were destroyed. In 2007, the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR) was established to oversee the restoration of the citadel. In the same year, all inhabitants, except one family, were evicted from the citadel as part of a large restoration project. Since then, archaeological research and restoration works have been carried out at and around the tell by various international teams and in co-operation with local specialists, and many areas remain off-limits to visitors due to the danger of unstable walls and infrastructure. The government plans to have 50 families live in the citadel once it is renovated.

The only religious structure that currently survives in the citadel is the Mulla Afandi Mosque. When it was fully occupied, the citadel was divided in three districts or mahallas : from east to west the Serai, the Takya and the Topkhana. The Serai was occupied by notable families; the Takya district was named after the homes of dervishes, which are called takyas; and the Topkhana district housed craftsmen and farmers. Other sights to visit in the citadel include the bathing rooms ( hammam ) built in 1775 located near the mosque and the Textile Museum. [44] Erbil citadel has been inscribed on the World Heritage List on 21 June 2014 .

Other sights


Franso Hariri Stadium Franso Hariri Stadium.JPG
Franso Hariri Stadium

The local major football team is Erbil SC which plays its football matches at Franso Hariri Stadium (named after the assassinated Assyrian politician, former governor of Erbil city Franso Hariri) which is based in the south part of central Erbil. Erbil SC were the first Kurdish team to make it to the AFC Champions league.


See also

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