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Hatra, Iraq

Hatra, the City of the Sun god, and the perfect ruin, or as Arabs say: Hadhar, is one of Iraq's few stone reserved monuments, a site that will be loved unreservedly and at first sight, because of its stunning beauty.

It is an ancient Arab city about 80 km to the south west of Mosul and 296 km north west of Baghdad. In many people's opinion its the loveliest ancient monument in Iraq from any period in that country's immensely long history.

The Temple of Shamash (the Sun God)

Although archeologists possess few texts that tells about the obscure beginnings of Hatra, it seems things started with a smallish Assyrian settlement which then grew sometime in the 3rd century BC to become a fortress and a trading center. In the 2nd century BC, it flourished as a major staging-post on the famous oriental silk road to become another link in the chain of the great Arab cities: Palmyra in Syria, Petra in Jordan, and Baalbeck in Lebanon.

Around 156 AD, and before the foundation of kingship, Hatra was governed by Arab rulers who combined religious and secular authority. Prominent among them was Nasr, father of the first two kings of Hatra: Lajash and Sanatruq. The latter whose title was King of the Arabs as inscriptions discovered in 1961 reveals and who, it seems, completed the Temple of Shamash (the Sun God), was succeeded by his son Abd Samya (190-200 AD), who in turn was succeeded by his son Sanatruq II (200-241 AD), the last Arab king of the city.

A Column Capital in the North TempleThe Statue of Abbu in the Great Temple

It is good to take one's time in Hatra as there is so much to look at and the compulsion is to go on looking. Hatra is fortified with two city walls and citadels. The outer wall is 8 km long, and the inner is 6 km long. The center of Hatra consists of a group of temples enclosed by a special wall. The most important is the temple of Shamash and the shrine of the goddess Shahiro (the morning star).

The group of temples has been partly restored and exemplifies the unique Hatran architecture: an elegant combination of eastern and western influences. Excavations of Hatra have only started recently. The town itself has not been uncovered yet but you are able to see the temples, the tombs, the wall and the remains of towers.

Impressive examples of Hatran art, with its statues of kings and precious collections of golden, silver and copper objects, can be admired at the National Museum of Iraq.

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