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Arbil Travel Guide: 92 reviews and 253 photos


Arbil (also written Erbil or Irbil; Arabic: اربيل‎, Arbīl; Kurdish: Hewlr) is believed by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world and is one of the larger cities in Iraq.
The city lies eighty kilometres (fifty miles) east of Mosul.
In 2005, its estimated population was 990,000 inhabitants.
The city is the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government

An ancient city - History

Urban life at Arbil can be dated back to at least the twenty-third century BCE.
The city's archaeological museum contains only pre-Islamic objects. The name Arbil was mentioned in the Sumerian holy writings (about 2000 B.C.) as Orbelum or Urbilum.
Others believe the name derives from the Akkadian arba'ū ilū, meaning "four gods". The city was a centre for the worship of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. In classical times, the city was known by its Aramaic name, Arbela.
The Battle of Gaugamela, in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia in 331 BCE, took place about one hundred kilometres (eighty miles) west of Arbil. After the battle, Darius managed to flee to the city, and, somewhat inaccurately, the confrontation is sometimes known as the Battle of Arbela.

Arbil became, like Amida (Diyareker), part of the region disputed between Rome and Persia under the Sassanians.
Under Emperor Trajan it was named the Roman province of Assyria, and after a century of independence was reoccupied by Rome.
The petty kingdom of Adiabene (Greek form of Aramaic Hadyab) had its center at Arbil, and the town and kingdom are known in Jewish Middle Eastern history for the conversion of the royal family to Judaism, although the general population may have remained eclectic but with a strong eastern Christian presence.
The queen of the Adiabenians apparently adopted Christianity, and it spread throughout this region, so that the area became a Christian stronghold. It served as the seat of a Metropolitan of the Church of the East. It is known from Butler's Lives of the Saints (see Martyrs of Hadiab) as the site of the Selucid martyrdom of almost 350 Christians in the year 345.
It remained an Aramaic speaking area until its destruction by the forces of Timurlane in 1397.
From its Christian period come many church fathers and well-known authors in Syriac, the classical language off-shoot of Aramaic.
In the wake of Timur's raids, when only one Christian village is alleged to have survived, Arbil increasingly became a Muslim-dominated town.
As is attested in the region in general, those who converted to Islam became enfolded into the ethnic Muslim culture of the region, whether Turkish, Arab, Persian or Kurdish. Arbil is also the birth place of the famous Islamic Kurdish historian and writer of 13th century, Ibn Khallikan.

During the Middle Ages, Arbil became a major trading centre on the route between Baghdad and Mosul, a role which it still plays today with important road and rail links to the outside world.
A small population of Assyrian Christians (about 15,000) live mostly in suburbs such as Ankawa.
The Kurdish name, Hewlr, is sometimes promoted for this historic town of Mesopotamia. The name was given by Kurdish settlers of the city and derives from Xorlr, meaning "Temple of the Sun" in the Kurdish language. This may have perhaps originated from the Kurdish religion of Zoroastrianism in which fire and the sun play a significant role. However, the international designation for the city is "Arbil".

The modern city and history

The parliament of the Kurdish Autonomous Region was established in Arbil in 1970 after negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish militants, 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 (KDP) 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.

The Kurdish Parliament in Arbil reconvened after a peace agreement was signed between the Kurdish parties in 1997, but had no real power. The Kurdish government in Arbil 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 of Arbil. The city was the scene of rapturous celebrations on April 10, 2003 after the fall of Baghdad.

Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, only isolated, sporadic violence has hit Arbil, unlike many other areas of Iraq. Parallel bomb attacks against the Eid celebrations arranged by the PUK and KDP killed 109 people on February 1, 2004. Responsibility was claimed by the Islamist group Ansar al-Sunnah, which was said to be in solidarity with the Kurdish Islamist faction Ansar al-Islam. Another bombing on May 4, 2005 killed 60 civilians. Despite these bombings the population generally feels safe

The new Iraqi constitution of 2005 explicitly recognizes the Kurdish Regional Government, and the two parallel adminstrations, in January 2006, signed an agreement to unify the administration of the entire Kurdish region under a new multi-party government in Arbil.
In May 2006 the unitary government of the Kurdish region was formally presented. The governement has made now Arbil as its official capital.

  • Last visit to Arbil: Sep 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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