When the Al-Nouri Mosque and the adjacent al-Hadba minaret in Mosul were bombed by the Islamic State (IS) on June 21, 2017, many thought that the landmark mosque and its “hunchback” minaret most famous for its leaning structure were gone for good.
But today, there is some hope of restoring both structures. The reconstruction of the mosque and the minaret will start in June, said Nofal Sultan al-Akoub, the governor of Iraq’s northern province of Ninevah, on May 6.
The announcement follows a protocol signed April 23 between Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, where the latter would commit $50.4 million over five years for the reconstruction of the mosque that dates from the 12th century. UNESCO is also a signatory to the reconstruction agreement.
The mosque is an important symbol for Mosul, and it was used in 2014 as the venue where Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and militants proclaimed a caliphate. Three years later, IS fighters blew it to pieces weeks before their defeat.
The minaret, which was one of the few remaining parts of the original construction, is less known to the international world. It had a design often attributed to Iranian architectural influence, with a white plastered top. It had a significant lean since the 14th century, and its likeness can be found on 10,000-dinar bills.
The main questions on the renovation are whether the amount allocated, which is one of the largest sums committed for a restoration project in Iraq, will be enough and whether the reconstruction will be successful.
Mohammed Nouri al-Abed Rabbo, a parliament member from Ninevah, told Al-Monitor that the next phase would be to take bids for the reconstruction after the government agencies finalized the contract and the blueprints for the work required.
Abed Rabbo added that the reconstruction process “needs more funding than what has been allocated by the UAE.” Pointing out that the monument was essentially razed to the ground, he said that great architectural skills would be required for the reconstruction, and UNESCO — the cultural arm of the UN — would need to be involved.
“There have been efforts since the liberation of Mosul to clean the mosque of explosive devices, remove rubble, document the destruction and collect the damaged authentic relics. The area was cordoned off to prevent the loss of the remaining relics from the minaret and the mosque,” Abed Rabbo added.
Mosul Mayor Zuhair Muhssein al-Araji told Al-Monitor via phone that the reconstruction plan was developed following discussions and meetings with UNESCO. These meetings have taken up costs and conducted feasibility studies. He said he expected the construction to take at least four years.
“The implementation process is likely to take a long time, as it is a large area. Given its great historical importance, the work needs to be meticulous. We need to study the available historical data so it can be restored to its original architecture,” Araji added.
According to professor of modern history at Mosul University Ibrahim al-Allaf, Nur al-Din al-Zanki — who ruled Mosul — "ordered the building of the mosque [and its minaret] in A.D. 1172."
Allaf said the mosque had been damaged many times in its history. “The Iraqi Department of Antiquities dismantled and rebuilt the mosque in 1942 as part of a renovation campaign,” Allaf told Al-Monitor. “Al-Hadba minaret is the only remaining feature of the original building of the mosque. Due to its historical value, the minaret has been printed on Iraqi banknotes.”
Leafing through the documents he held on the minaret, Allaf said of its structure: “The minaret was 55 meters high [although there are different accounts of its height], while the mosque area is about 6,000 square meters. The minaret’s base is large, and it features Islamic decorations on its four facades. The building of the entire mosque cost at the time 60,000 dinars of gold.”
Louise Haxthausen, the UNESCO director for Iraq, said at the press conference April 23 that the “reconstruction of the minaret is an ambitious project that carries major symbolism for the liberation of Mosul.”
The head of Iraq's Parliamentary Committee on Media and Culture, Maysoon al-Damluji, who is from Mosul, told Al-Monitor that the National Authority for Antiquities and Heritage will be involved in the restoration, and that she hoped archaeologists and architects from Mosul would be involved.
“The reconstruction project will not only address the physical and structural aspects of the building, but also highlight the cultural and artistic heritage such as the decorations, ornaments, inscriptions and writings,” Damluji said. She urged the authorities to be careful "not to damage the remaining relics during the removal of rubble and the works on the site.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed Kassem al-Juma, a retired professor from the University of Mosul and a UNESCO Islamic monuments and archaeology expert based in Mosul, told Al-Monitor, “No matter how meticulous and careful the work to restore the relics is, the restored building will not bear the same value of the original that was blown up by IS.”
“The minaret and the mosque were characterized by fine technical details such as the marble pillars of the praying room, the cubic crowns, the strip engraved with words from the Quranic verses, as well as the mosque’s mihrab ornamented with arabesque decorations carved on marble,” Juma added.
He said, “The summer prayer mihrab (the outdoor niche in the wall where the imam stands to conduct prayers) is made of marble. It is currently at the National Museum in Baghdad.”
Juma accompanied the UNESCO delegation that toured the site before the launch of the project. “I keep all the documents, blueprints and drawings of the mosque with all its parts, the architectural details, measurements and maps of the original locations,” he said.
“I worked for a full year in a field survey of the minaret and the mosque before IS entered Mosul in 2014. I documented the details of the mosque and the ceramic construction units with more than 500 sketches and technical drawings,” Juma said, adding, "The mosque has great moral, social and religious significance, as it has been in the past … the place to hold meetings and gatherings for religious and official public events.”