Part of the massive mudbrick gated walls that surround Nineveh.
(Photo by lachicaphoto, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Located in northern Iraq near the modern city of Mosul, Nineveh served as the capital of the Assyrian Empire from 705 to 612 BC, and was described in the Book of Jonah as an “exceedingly great city.” In 612, after it was attacked and reduced to rubble by a combination of Medes, Babylonians, and Susianians, Nineveh was left lost and buried until its rediscovery by archaeologists in the mid-19th century.
Today, many of Nineveh’s ruins have been excavated and explored, including several palaces made up of exquisite rooms and reliefs. Many of the ancient city’s massive gates and mudbrick walls have also been unearthed, including Mashki, one of its most famous gates, which has been reconstructed and now stands as a popular tourist attraction. Though Nineveh’s former glory as heart of the Assyrian Empire did not last long, there is much to be learned from the city’s ruins — so long as they’re protected.
Looting and vandalism: Like many of Iraq’s historical sites, looting has been a major problem in Nineveh. In recent years, fragments of documented and photographed artifacts have appeared for sale in international markets, and evidence of holes dug in chamber floors is suggestive of past looting. Vandalism has also been a problem for these already-endangered reliefs.
Encroachment: Because of Nineveh’s proximity to major city Mosul, there is constant danger of encroachment as the surrounding suburbs expand. Major development has already occurred within the ancient city’s walls, including the digging of sewer and water lines in unexplored land, much of which likely contains artifacts left by former civilizations. Also slowing the exploration of Nineveh has been its status as a holy city, which disallows such types of excavation.
Insufficient Management: Without proper roofing for protection, Nineveh’s ancient walls and reliefs are becoming more and more damaged by natural elements every day. Exploration of the city is an important objective at this time, but preservation measures would go a long way as well.
Nineveh has already been heavily attacked by looters, and now development pressures from nearby Mosul have begun to take their toll as well. If this encroachment continues, Nineveh’s ancient remains could again be buried forever.
One of Nineveh’s ancient wall reliefs, which shows cracking and rain damage. (Photo by Justin Barton, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)