Open Context

Descriptive Variable Value(s)
Site Name Nineveh
Alternate Name


I. Physical description

Nineveh and Mosul are located around 400 km. north of Baghdad. The old city of Mosul is located along the west bank of the Tigris, while Nineveh is located on the east bank on a level plain slightly inland of the river with a 7.5 mile brick city wall enclosing 1800 acres. Mosul and Nineveh, situated at the confluence of the Tigris and Khosr Rivers, have been historically significant as trade centers on caravan routes between India and Persia and the Levant and Anatolia.

II. Historical Context

Although settlement dates back to at least 4,000 BC, the historical site of Nineveh appears as a royal city in the Middle Assyrian period. Shalmaneser I (1273-1244 BC) and subsequent Middle Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian Kings began to erect royal palaces on the summit of the high mound of Kuyunjik. In the First Millennium B.C., the flat plain to the north of Kuyunjik appears to have housed a sizable lower town. Neo-Assyrian (Ninua) was made the new capital of Assyria in 721 BC under King Sennacherib who moved the Assyrian capital from Dur Sharrukin (Khorsabad). The site was the third and last capital of the Assyrians. Sennecherib's palaces (of which there were three) were built on the Kuyunjik mound, as well as the palace of his grandson Ashurbanipal. The city is attested in the Old Testament (first mention in Genesis 10:11) several times, associated also with the Prophet Jonah, and the New Testament. The capital city fell in 612 BC to the Babylonians, Susianians, and Medes. Six years later, the Assyrian Empire collapsed. The city fades out of historical mention until A.D. 627 when there was a major Battle of Nineveh between the Byzantines and Sasanians. In the Early Islamic period, the site of Mosul was the main city of the province of al-Jazira, northern Mesopotamia and walled, occupying the old quarter of the modern city today. Parts of the city wall remain at Bash Tapia castle on the Tigris. Its chief export was cotton (muslin, from the city's name). The Mongol invasion destroyed the city in the 13th century. In the Ottoman period it was rebuilt and revived and retained its administrative provincial seat and continued to be the most important city in northern Iraq. Mosul has the largest number of Iraqi Christians of any Iraqi city, including Nestorians, Jacobites, Catholics and Chaldeans. There are churches in Mosul that are historically and culturally important for several of these Christian sects. The Nebi Yunus mound on Nineveh has been a long-standing Muslim pilgrimage site and shrine dedicated to the Prophet Jonah. Today it is controlled by US troops.

III. Relevant Historical Themes

Nineveh-Mosul should be treated as two separate and distinct sites, each worthy of archaeological and historical significance. The large site of Nineveh is incredibly significant and has great potential for archaeological work. As the final capital of the Assyrian Empire, it can shed important light for the twilight of the Assyrian period in the early 8th to early 7th century BC. The existence of libraries, in addition to the famous Assurbanipal library that was found in Assurbanipal's palace and is now in the British Museum, would further contribute to a vast understanding of the Mesopotamian language, literature, economy, and culture of the 1st millenium BC.

IV. Excavations

For Nineveh, before the excavations in the 1800sm nothing was seen or known about the city except that its name was retained, a rarity that bespeaks its importance. In 1820, Claudis Rich produced a detailed map of the site. Nineveh was first excavated in the 19th century by the French consul, Paul Emile-Botta. The main work was done in 1847 by the young British explorer Sir Austen Henry Layard, after he completed a series of excavations at Nimrud. Layard documented the palace of Sennacherib (the southwest palace on the Kuyunjik mound. He revealed close to 3km of carved stone reliefs, including those that depicted Sennecherib's seige and capture of the city of the Judean city of Lachish.

Further work was undertaken by Hormuzd Rassam beginning in 1852. He excavated the North Palace of Ashurbanipal. In this palace, he uncovered sculptured slabs depicting lion-hunt sequences and a large portion of the 24,000 cunieform tablets that make up the "Library of Ashurbanipal". During Rassam's excavations, tablets which revealed the identity of the site were excavated confirming the location of this royal capital.

In 1927-1932, Campbell Thompson of the former British Museum expeditions, started excavations conducted excavations. On Kuyunjik, he explored the remains of the Nabu temple and the Temple of Istar (where he discovered a copper head that has been variously ascribed to either Sargon of Akkad or Naram-Sin He worked at Nebi Yunus, identified as the arsenal of Nineveh, and outside the walls. Outside the NW corner city wall were found 300 fragments of prisms recording the royal annals of the three kings Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. He also introduced a deep sounding through Kuyunjik in this last season to reach the prehistoric levels of the site. M.E.Mallowan (1933) provided an analysis of the pottery from this sounding to create a key sequence for northern Mesopotamia.

In the 1960's, the Iraqi Department of Antiquities began recent excavations on the site. Between 1965-1971, Tariq Madhloom began the task of precisely locating and then restoring portions of the walls and gates of the Neo-Assyrian defenses. Major portions of the city walls and gates were reconstructed well, using material found collapsed outwards. In the late 1980's, the University of California at Berkeley began excavations again at Nineveh under the direction of David Stronach. They aimed to investigate the long occupation sequence on Kuyunjik by exploration of a deep gully on the eastern edge of the site. They also continued investigation in the area of the lower town, under increasing encroachment from modern settlement, by excavation of a lower mound in the northwest corner of the lower town.

V. Previous and Current Use

Ninveh-Mosul have two separate core areas corresponding to each site. Nineveh is a contained archaeological site, with various key elements within. The significance of the site of Nineveh is seen through the role that it has played historically as a key capital city of the Assyrian Empire. The long sequence of occupation at the site attests to its importance throughout antiquity. Furthermore, the previous exploration at the site has revealed incredibly important information, specifically texts, seals, prisms and other texts in libraries and caches attesting in vast ways to the language, economy, religion, and culture of the time period. Secondly, although half of the site is obscured by modern construction, the other half is untouched and its potential preservation may yield a vast amount of archaeological information. Nineveh has long been a favored tourist destination, with visible walls and gates, as well as the throne room of Sennacherib's palace, which was roofed in the 1970s.

Overall Criteria:

  • The site is important in course or pattern of Mesopotamia's cultural/natural history as it has evidence of significant human activity and is associated with a specific historic phase.
  • The site has potential to yield archaeological/scientific information important to cultural/natural history as it is an important benchmark or reference site and provides evidence of past human cultures unavailable elsewhere.

The individual elements are as follows:

1. The Kuyunjik mound contains the palace of Sennacherib, 210 x 200 m. (630 x 600 ft.), at least 80 rooms, and many in situ sculpture and colossal stone bas-relief. Some of the principal doorways were flanked by human-headed winged bulls (lamassu). In addition, a large number of tablets were found. There is also the palace and famous library of Ashurbanipal with 22,000 inscribed clay tablets.

Individual Criteria:

  • Item has uncommon, rare, or endangered aspects of cultural/natural history.
  • item has aesthetic significance, creative/technical achievement.

2. The Nebi Yunus mound (or al-Tawba mound) was identified as the ancient arsenal of Nineveh. Its primary significance is as a Muslim religious site, containing the Nebi Yunus mosque that attracts many pilgrims and visitors. The mosque was erected over an Assyrian temple that was converted to a Sassanian fire-temple, then a monastery, and then a church. In one of the rooms is the shrine to the Nebi Yunus with whale bones. Nearby is a well where Jonah supposedly bathed after being released from the whale. Iraqi excavations in the 1970s at Nebi Yunis revealed walls and winged bulls at entrrances of a huge palace of Esarhaddon, a famous building that is well atested in texts. The proximity of the Muslim shrine of Nebi and a fairly recent cemetery made it difficut for the Iraqis to continue excavating at this site in the 1990s. It is not known what condition the excavated remains may be in now.

Recently, new houses, watering places, blue glazed-brick buildings and a limestone minaret have been built since 1989 when there was an intensive campaign to develop and protect the area, modernize its facilities and systems and framework. Walls were decorated with inscription, Quranic chapters, and the structure was supported with iron frames. The mosque walls have been covered with marble and the ceiling with brick. Modern light and air conditioning systems were added.

Individual Criteria:

  • Item is strongly associated with a specific event, person, or group of people important to cultural history
  • Item is strongly associated with community for social or spiritual reasons

3. The city wall of Nineveh demarcates the well defined and interestingly shaped mound., which is the largest site in Iraq. The walls and gates are in various stages of preservation, ruin, and some gates (there were 15 in the Assyrian period) have been restored. Small excavations, such as one in the NW corner, revealed 300 fragments of inscribed prisms recording the royal annals of the three kings Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. In the Berkeley excavations at tha Halsi gate, skeletons of many individuals were found. Presumablyh, these were individuals who were caught outside the walls when the invaders came in 612.

Individual Criteria:

  • Item has uncommon, rare, or endangered aspects of cultural/natural history
  • Item has aesthetic significance, creative/technical achievement

Mosul, on the west bank of the Tigris was originally an Early Islamic misr or garrison city from the time of the seventh century conquests. While the Early Islamic configuration is not precisely known, the old quarter of the city reveals much of historic Mosul and its diverse population in the form of Early Islamic period important eastern Christian churches and a 10th century mosque. These have current significance as religious houses of worhsip and pilgrimage centers, as well. Mosul has the largest population of Christians (Aramaic speaking Assyrians) proportionally of any Iraqi city, and is principally Kurdish. Architecturally, the city differs considerably from the other cites in Iraq in that marble is ubiquitous, especially in frames of windows or doors. The city has kept an older Islamic character that Baghdad has lost: its older part is preserved and it has small neighborhoods delineated by a maze of streets and alleys with mud-plastered houses.

Individual Criteria:
  • Site demonstrates important characteristics of a class of cultural or natural places as it is a fine example of its type and displays principal characteristics of historic Islamic architecture and urban planning, design, and technique
  • Site is strongly associated with a specific event, person, or group of people important to cultural history
  • Site is strongly associated with community for social and spiritual reasons

The individual elements of Mosul are as follows:

al-Kabir Mosque: The Great Mosque was first built in the 10th century by Nur ad-Din ash-Shahid. The 52 meter conspicuous leaning brick minaret is associated from the first Umayyad mosque in AD6 40.
Chaldean Catholic Church of Al-Tahira was built as a monastery in AD300 and became a church in 1600, when various additions were built.
Church of St. Peter (and Simon) (Shamoun al-Safa): It previously belonged to the Church of the East and was cared for by the Chaldean Church. It is dedicated to both the apostles Sts. Peter and Simon It was first founded in the 9th century and lies 5 meters below street level, although some mentions date it to the 13th c. It includes an epitaph of Shammas Raphael Mazagi who established a Chaldean printing press and Patriarchal seminary next door. The building was later inhabited by the nuns of the Sacred Hearts. It has a deep underground courtyard and cemetery.
Church of St. Thomas (Ma Toma): It is one of the oldest churches, named after St. Thomas the Apostle. The exact date of its founding is unknown but assumed to be before AD 770 as it is named in correspondence with the 'Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi in the Early Islamic period. There are also the relics of St. Thomas and the church is still in use.
Church of Mar Petion: It date to before the 10th century and is 3 m. below street level. The site has been destroyed and reconstructed several times. In 1942, a hall was added. Its most artistic features are no longer visible.
Mar Hudeni Church: It was named after Mar Ahudemmeh (Hudeni) Maphrian of Tikrit was was martyred in AD 575. As such, the church served the Tikrit community and dates to the 10th century and is 7 m. below street level. It was first reconstructed in 1970 and has a well which still functions and is thought to cure epileptics.
Monastery of St. George (Mar Gurguis): It is located to the north and visited annually in the spring by many pilgrims. In 1931, a modern church was built over it and much of its original plan was destroyed. What does remain is a marble door frame with a Syrian inscription and two niches which date to the 13th or 14th centuries.
Clock and Latin Church: fine marble, stained glass

VI. Assessment of Damage and Integrity

The site of Nineveh is significant in that within its well defined city walls, there has been a lot of damage to its condition and integrity, which continues to threaten the preservation of the final Assyrian capital. In those areas where there is no development, there is much to be uncovered that has great archaeological potential, but the expansion of new residential areas threatens to cover all of the lower city in a few years.

The current US-Iraq war has caused significant damage to parts of the site. Two Oriental Institute researchers, T.J. Wilkinson and Mark Altaweel, conducted a fact-finding mission on the part of UNESCO and National Geographic to assess damage (Wilkinson, May 2003:; and a report to UNESCO, "Report on the situation of cultural heritage in Iraq up to 30 May 2003.") The following quoted observations come from these assessments.

Damage to the Kuyunjik Mound: "The Sennacherib SW Palace is near total destruction and needs immediate intervention. The Museum is only guarded from 8 am to 8 pm by military, so plunderers come after dark. A request was therefore made that they be extended to round the clock. At Sennacherib's SW palace there were three forms of damage: a) general decay of the reliefs which appears to have taken place over the roughly the 10-year duration of the sanctions period and the two Gulf Wars" ["The corrugated iron roof which was progressively lost during the 1990s was now completely gone"], b) deliberate vandalism of reliefs in the two galleries on display, c) illegal digging in the floor of the chambers (specifically a small room at the SE end of the main hall) apparently for the purpose of recovering artifacts (gold or ivory?) from beneath the floors of the rooms ["Photographic records were made of the damage to the palace reliefs."]

Damage to the walls and gates of Nineveh: "The Nergal gate museum at Nineveh was not broken into, (the would-be looters having failed to get in through the locked doors)." Damage to the Nebi Yunus area: "The area of Nebi Yunus was also undamaged."

Overall, "Although there is a US military guard at Nineveh (on Kuyunjuk itself) these are currently only in place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. We requested that they be extended to round the clock. A storage facility at Nineveh as well as the Nineveh excavation house show no obvious loss of stone relief fragments and we were told that no artifacts remained in the excavation house."

"Sheet metal roof needs to be replaced before fall rains. Remaining sculptures and walls need comprehensive conservation treatment. Conservators could stay at nearby Nineveh palace hotel, which is safe and is currently being used by UN groups in area."

Furthermore, as evidenced by the Quickbird image, nearly half of the top of the site is covered by modern residential development. As such, the site is in immediate danger of being subsumed by the expanding metropolis of Mosul. Very little has been done at the site outside of the main mound of Kuyunjik and the city walls. The other mound, called Nabi Yunus (Prophet Jonah) is currently a Muslim dedicatory shrine site. Mosul across the river is the site's continuation since the Early Islamic period and perhaps slightly earlier. Although the exact configuration of the Early Islamic site is not known with certainty, the old quarter of modern Mosul is a likely location and is strewn with buildings of historical significance. These are religious buildings (mosque, churches) that attest to the uniqueness of Mosul as a city that has always had a diverse religious and ethnic population, including a center for many monophysitic Eastern Christian orders.

Mosul, unfortunately now a historic quarter in a modern city, is significant in that its key historic buildings attested since Early Islamic times, can be designated as historic monuments and preserved. The predominately religious buildings of note throughout Mosul attest to the ethnic and religious diversity of the city during the Early and medieval Islamic periods and the great tolerance therein.

Also, the reconstructed areas of the site including several gate reconstructions are facing deterioration due to lack of maintenance.

Experts for this site include:

  • David Stronach at University of California Berkeley
  • Eleanor Wilkinson at the University of Durham.


Barnett, R (1976) Scupltures from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh 668-627 B.C. London

Bleibtreu, Erika et. al. (1996) The Southwest Palace of Sennecherib at Nineveh. London

Dalley, Stephanie (1994) "Nineveh, Babylon, and the Hanging Gardens:Cunieform and Classical Sources Reconciled". Iraq 56: 45-58.

Gut, Renate (1995) Das praehistorische Ninive: zur relativen chronologie der Fruehen Perioden Nord mesopotamiens. Baghdader Forschungen Bd. 19

Jacobsen, Thorkild and Lloyd, Seton (1935) Sennacherib's Aqueduct at Jerwan. Oriental Institute Publications 24. Chicago

Layard, A.H. (1849) Nineveh and Its Remains. 2 Volumes. London

Luckenbill, Daniel (1924) The Annals of Sennacherib. Oriental Institute Publications 2. Chicago.

Madhloom, Tariq (1967) "Excavations at Nineveh: A preliminary report". Sumer 23: 76-79.

Madhloom, Tariq (1968) "Excavations at Nineveh: The 1967-68 Campaign". Sumer 24: 45-51.

Madhloom, Tariq (1969) "Excavations at Nineveh: The 1968-69 Campaign". Sumer 25: 43-49.

Mallowan, M.E.L. (1933) "The Prehistoric Sondage of Nineveh, 1931-32". Annals of Archaeology and Anthroplogy, University of Liverpool 20: 127-186.

Rassan, H (1897) Asshur and the Land of Nimrod. Cincinnati.

Reade, Julian (1983) Assyrian Sculpture. London

Russel, John (1991) Sennacherib's "Palace without Rival" at Nineveh. Chicago

Scott, M. Lousie and John Macginnis (1990) " Notes on Nineveh" Iraq 52: 63-73. Including a list of excavators.

Stronach, D. and Lumsdan, Stephen (1992) "U.C. Berkeley's Excavations at Nineveh". Biblical Archaeologist 55: 227-233.

Stronach, D. (1994) "Village to Metropolis: Nineveh and the Begininngs of Urbanism in Northern Mesopotamia". In Nuove Fondazioni nel Vicino Oriente Antico: Realta e ideologia. Ed. Stephanie Mazzoni. Pgs. 85-114. Pisa.

Thompson, R. Campbell and Hutchinson, Richard (1929) A Century of Exploration at Nineveh. London.

Turner, Geoffrey (1970) "Tell Nebi Yunis: The Ekal Masarti of Nineveh". Iraq 32: 68-85.

Suggested Citation

Global Heritage Fund. "Nineveh from Iraq". (2006) In Iraq Heritage Program. Global Heritage Fund (Ed.) . Released: 2006-11-07. Open Context. <> ARK (Archive):

Editorial Status

Minimal editorial acceptance

Part of Project

Iraq Heritage Program

Mapping Data

Copyright License

Attribution 4.0

To the extent to which copyright applies, this content carries the above license. Follow the link to understand specific permissions and requirements.
Required Attribution: Citation and reference of URIs (hyperlinks)