Arbelā, Hawler, Arbīl

Clockwise, from top: Downtown, Mudhafaria Minaret, Statue of Ibn al-Mustawfi, and Citadel of Erbil
Nickname(s): Hawler

Erbil in Iraq

Coordinates: 36°11′28″N 44°0′33″E / 36.19111°N 44.00917°E / 36.19111; 44.00917Coordinates: 36°11′28″N 44°0′33″E / 36.19111°N 44.00917°E / 36.19111; 44.00917
Country  Iraq
Autonomous region  Iraqi Kurdistan
Province Erbil Governorate
  Governor Nawzad Hadi
Elevation 420 m (1,380 ft)
Population (2011)
  Total 1,025,000[1]
Time zone GMT+3 (UTC+3)
  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC)
Postal code 31019
Area code(s) 66

Erbil, also spelt Arbil or Irbil, and also known as Hewler (Kurdish: Hewlêr, Central Kurdish: ھەولێر, Syriac: ܐܪܒܝܠ Arbel, Arabic: أربيل Arbīl), is the capital city of Erbil Governorate and of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is located approximately 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad. Its governorate has a permanent population of approximately 1.61 million as of 2011.[2] It has an ethnically diverse population of Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, Armenians, Turcomans, Yezidis, Shabakis and Mandeans. It is equally religiously diverse, with believers of Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Christianity, Sufism, Yezidism, Yarsan, Shabakism and Mandeanism extant in and around Erbil.

Human settlement at Erbil can be dated back to possibly 5000 BC, and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the world.[3] At the heart of the city is the ancient Citadel of Arbil. The earliest historical reference to the region dates to the Ur III dynasty of Sumer, when king Shulgi mentioned the city of Urbilum – the ancient Assyrian name of modern-day Arbil.[4][5] Erbil became an integral part of Assyria by at least the 21st century BC where it was known variously as Urbilim, Arbela and Arba-ilu, and a part of the Geo-Political province of Assyria under several regional powers in turn, including the Median Empire, the Achaemenid Empire (Achaemenid Assyria), Macedonian Empire, Seleucid Syria, Parthian Empire (Athura), Assyria (Roman province) and Sassanid Empire (Assuristan). During the Parthian era to early Sassanid era (C.150 BC – C.250 AD) Erbil became the capital of the Assyrian state of Adiabene. Following the Arab Muslim conquest of Persia, the Arabs dissolved Assyria (then known as Assuristan/Athura) as a geo-political entity in the mid-7th century AD, and during medieval times the city came to be ruled by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks.[6]

Erbil's archaeological museum houses a large collection of pre-Islamic artifacts, and is a center for archaeological projects in the area.[7]

The city was designated as Arab Tourism Capital 2014 by the Arab Council of Tourism.[8][9] In July 2014, Erbil Citadel was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


The name Erbil was mentioned in Sumerian holy writings of third millennium BC as Urbilum, Urbelum or Urbillum,[5] which appears to originate from Arbilum[10] in the language of the Hurrians who inhabited the area.[11] Later, the Akkadians and Assyrians by a folk etymology rendered the name as arba'ū ilū to mean four gods.[10] The city became a centre for the worship of the Assyro-Babylonian goddess Ishtar. In classical times the city became known as Arbela ('Άρβηλα). In Old Persian the city was called Arbairā.[12]

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.[10]


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
Chaldean Catholic Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Ankawa, a suburb of Erbil.

Ancient history

Erbil is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in history.[13]

The region in which Erbil lies was largely under Sumerian domination from c.3000 BC, and from perhaps the 25th century BC, under the control of pastoralist Akkadian speaking Assyrian kings, 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 Assyrians are one of the Iraqi minorities, their population is estimated to be 1.5million.

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.[14]

The Neo-Sumerian ruler of Ur, Amar-Sin, sacked Urbilum in his second year, c. 1975 BC[5]

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, and it remained part of Assyria under Persian, Greek, Parthian, Roman and Sassanid rule.

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.[15] 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.[16]

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 BCE, Arbela became part of the Hellenistic Seleucid Kingdom.

Erbil became part of the region disputed between Rome and Persia under the Sasanids. The ancient Assyrian kingdom of Adiabene (the Greek form of Ḥadyab) had its center at Erbil, and the town and kingdom are known in Jewish Middle Eastern history for the conversion of the royal family to Judaism.[17]

Its populace then gradually converted from the Mesopotamian Religion between the 1st and 4th centuries to the Assyrian Church of the East Christianity, with Pkidha traditionally becoming its first bishop around 104 AD, although the ancient Assyrian religion did not die out entirely until the 5th century AD.[18][19] The metropolitanate of Ḥadyab in Arbela (Syriac: ܐܪܒܝܠ Arbel) became a centre of eastern Syriac Christianity until late in the Middle Ages.[20]

Medieval history

As many of the Aramaic-speaking Assyrians adapted 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.[21] 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.

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.[22] After the fall of Baghdad to Hülegü and the Mongols in 1258, they returned to Arbil and were able to capture the citadel after a siege lasting six months.[23] 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.[24] 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 Christian 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 Assyrian 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 July 1, 1310, and all the defenders were massacred, including many of the Assyrian inhabitants of the lower town.[25][26]

However, the city's Eastern Aramaic-speaking Assyrian population remained numerically significant until the destruction of the city by the forces of Timur in 1397.[27]

In the Middle Ages, Erbil was ruled successively by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Buwayhids, the Seljuks and then the Atabegs of Erbil (1131–1232), under whom it was a Turkmen state; 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 were defeated and ejected by the British Empire.

Modern history

A postcard showing the city of Erbil in 1900
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 centre on the route between Baghdad and Mosul, a role which it still plays today with important road links to the outside world.

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, Kawliyah 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 the Iraqi government 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 April 10, 2003 after the fall of the Ba'ath regime.

During the US occupation of Iraq, sporadic attacks hit Erbil. Parallel bomb attacks against Eid celebrations killed 109 people on February 1, 2004.[28] Responsibility was claimed by the Ansar al-Sunnah,[28] and stated to be in solidarity with Ansar al-Islam. A suicide bombing on May 4, 2005 killed 60 civilians and injured 150 more outside a police recruiting center.[29]

The Erbil International Airport opened in the city in 2005.


Downtown Erbil

Downtown Erbil was a project for a large-scale mixed-use complex in Erbil. The project would have been coordinated by Emaar Properties, the GCC's largest real estate developer. Emaar is well known for international big projects like Downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa. The project was launched in 2013 and will cover an area of 541,000 square metres (5,823,276 square feet). This area will be used for residential apartments, hotels and a shopping mall. The project was cancelled in 2014 due to the civil war in Iraq. [30]

Aura Erbil

Aura Erbil is another new project with a high standard of living, which is coordinated by Zardman.[31]


Erbil International Airport is one of Iraq's busiest airports and is near the city. Services includes direct flights to many domestic destinations as well as flights to international destinations in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.


Erbil's climate is hot-summer Mediterranean (Csa) according to Köppen climate classification, with extremely hot summers and mild wet winters. January is the wettest month.[32]

Climate data for Erbil
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 20
Average high °C (°F) 12.4
Daily mean °C (°F) 7.4
Average low °C (°F) 2.4
Record low °C (°F) −4
Average rainfall mm (inches) 111
Average rainy days 9 9 10 9 4 1 0 0 1 3 6 10 62
Average snowy days 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Average relative humidity (%) 74.5 70 65 58.5 41.5 28.5 25 27.5 30.5 43.5 60.5 75.5 50.04
Source #1:,[32] My Forecast for records, humidity, snow and precipitation days[33]
Source #2: What's the Weather,[34] Erbilia[35]

Main sights

Citadel of Erbil

The Citadel of Arbil 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.[36] 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 period. West of the citadel at Ary Kon quarter, a chamber tomb dating to the Neo-Assyrian period has been excavated.[7] During the Sassanian period and the Abbasid Caliphate, Erbil was an important center for 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 cooperation 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.[37] Erbil citadel has been inscribed on the World Heritage List on June 21, 2014 .

Other sights


The local major football team is Erbil SC which plays its football matches at Franso Hariri Stadium (named after the assassinated Assyrian politician 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.


Notable people from Erbil

Assyrian People
Arab people
Kurdish people
Turkmen people

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arbil.


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  2. "Ministry of Planning".
  3. Novácek, Karel (2008). "Research of the Arbil Citadel, Iraq, First Season". Památky Archeologické (XCIX): 259–302.
  4. Villard 2001
  5. 1 2 3 Hamblin, William J. (2006). Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC. Routledge. p. 111. ISBN 0-415-25589-9.
  6. Georges Roux – Ancient Iraq
  7. 1 2 3 'Directorate Antiquities of Erbil's Guide' Brochure produced by General Directorate of Antiquities, KRG, Ministry of Tourism
  8. Erbil named 2014 Arab Tourism Capital. Retrieved 2014-01-30
  9. "Erbil: Kurdish City, Arab Capital", Rudaw. Retrieved 2014-01-30
  10. 1 2 3 Khan, Geoffrey (1999). A grammar of neo-Aramaic: the dialect of the Jews of Arbel, Part 1, Volume 47. BRILL. p. 2. ISBN 978-90-04-11510-1.
  11. I. Gershevitc, The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1985 – 964 pages, s p. 37
  12. "Iranica: Arbela". Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  13. Erbil: World's oldest, and continously [sic] inhabited city – 8,000 Years,
  14. Timeline ErbilCitadel.orq
  15. "ASAGARTA (Sagartia) – Encyclopaedia Iranica".
  16. E. Herzfeld, The Persian Empire, ed. G. Walser, Wiesbaden, 1968, pp. 304–07
  17. Adiabene, Jewish Kingdom of Mesopotamia, Jonah Gabriel Lissner
  19. Neusner, Jacob (1969). A history of the Jews in Babylonia, Volume 2. Brill Archive. p. 354.
  20. British Institute of Persian Studies (1981). Iran , Volumes 19–21. the University of Michigan. pp. 15, 17.
  21. Gillman, Ian and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit. Christians in Asia before 1500. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1999) p. 33
  22. Woods 1977, pp. 49–50
  23. Nováček et al. 2008, p. 261
  24. Grousset, p. 379
  25. Sourdel 2010
  26. Grousset, p. 383
  27. Edwin Munsell Bliss, Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities, (Chicago 1896) p. 153
  28. 1 2 Al-Nahr, Naseer (February 2, 2004). "Twin Bombings Kill 56 in Irbil". Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  29. Jaff, Warzer; Oppel Jr., Richard A. (May 5, 2005). "60 Kurds Killed by Suicide Bomb in Northern Iraq". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  30. "Downtown Erbil - Facebook".
  31. –, website. Retrieved 2014 – 03 – 27
  32. 1 2 "Climate: Arbil – Climate graph, Temperature graph, Climate table". Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  33. "Irbil, Iraq Climate". My Forecast. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  34. "Erbil climate info". What's the Weather Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  35. "Erbil Weather Forecast and Climate Information". Erbilia. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  36. "Erbil Citadel". UNESCO. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  37. 'Erbil Citadel' Brochure, High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization (HCECR).
  38. Milliyet. "Türkmenler, Irak'ta eğitim düzeyleriyle öne çıkıyor...". Retrieved 2014-06-16.


External links

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Erbil.
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