Mosul Museum’s Restoration Symbolizes Cultural Rebirth Amidst Destruction by ISIS

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The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by Islamic State (IS) militants in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014 shocked the world. Now, as the recaptured city rebuilds, the restoration of its iconic museum, severely damaged by arson, bombing, and looting, stands as a symbol of rebirth and resilience.

For the first time, the public will have the opportunity to visit the museum and witness the detailed plans to restore the modernist building to its former glory. Zaid Ghazi Saadallah, the museum’s director, expresses that this project aims to restore the Mosul Cultural Museum to its rightful place as a cultural hub for the region.

Designed by the late Iraqi architect Mohamed Makiya, the museum originally opened in 1952 to showcase the rich and diverse history of northern Iraq. Mosul itself was situated near the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, once the world’s largest city.

In 2015, IS released a video displaying the militants using sledgehammers and drills to destroy priceless ancient treasures within the museum. This act was part of their campaign to eradicate cultural history that contradicted their extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam. Among the major Assyrian works damaged or destroyed were the lamassus, colossal winged bulls with human heads that once guarded the palace of Nimrud, as well as a colossal lion and cuneiform-inscribed tablets.

To restore the museum and nearby archaeological sites, scholars and antiquities officials returned to Mosul in 2017 despite the ongoing battles between IS fighters and Iraqi security forces. An international partnership, involving institutions such as the Louvre Museum in France and the US Smithsonian Institution, was formed to aid in rebuilding and addressing the aftermath of the devastating attack.

Efforts are underway to recover Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian, and Roman objects looted by IS and sold on the black market. Surprisingly, the jihadists preserved these pieces, contrasting with their treatment of larger artifacts and archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq.

The restoration work aims to recapture Mohamed Makiya’s vision for the museum, which will include visible reminders of the destruction. The concrete structure can be restored despite the extensive damage caused by shell and rocket blasts, while intentional damage, such as a large crater in the central Assyrian gallery caused by a bomb detonation, will be preserved as a commemorative reminder.

A new exhibition will accompany the announcement of the restoration plans, showcasing the museum’s origins in Mosul, photographs of its condition after the IS occupation, and visual representations of its future appearance.

The restoration of the Mosul Museum represents a beacon of hope amidst the cultural devastation caused by ISIS. It symbolizes the resilience of Mosul’s heritage and its determination to reclaim its rightful place as a center of cultural significance.