By Michael Danti, Marina Gabriel, Susan Penacho, Kyra Kaercher, and Allison Cuneo
On June 21, 2017 ISIL militants exploded al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and the iconic al-Hadba Minaret in Mosul’s Old City. Iraqi forces were nearing the mosque, a highly symbolic objective, reportedly advancing to within 50 meters before the detonation. The Iraqi Military released a statement blaming ISIL for the destruction of the mosque, while ISIL propaganda attempted to blame the US-led Coalition. The US-led Coalition released a statement confirming that no aircraft were in the area at the time of the explosion. Video footage released several hours after the first reports of the destruction shows a simultaneous, mass detonation taking place from inside the mosque and minaret, mirroring similar videos of ISIL demolition using fixed charges.
Al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque and al-Hadba Minaret were constructed between 1170 and 1172 CE under the patronage of Nur al-Din, the second ruler of the Zengid Dynasty. Nur al-Din ordered the foundation of the mosque to be constructed in the Old City neighborhood of Mosul, and appointed a local overseer. For centuries it ranked as the largest Sunni mosque in Mosul. Ernst Herzfeld visited the mosque in 1910 and described its plan as a conglomeration of various episodes of building. After its original construction, the mosque was renovated in 1511 by the Safavids. The mosque was again dismantled and reconstructed in 1864. The 1864 reconstruction included some original material, as well as material from other mosques and churches in Mosul. In 1942, al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque was once again dismantled and reassembled by a restoration program undertaken by the Iraqi government and using a different plan from the previous mosque.
At the time of its completion in 1172 CE, the al-Hadba minaret was 45 meters (150 feet) high, with seven ornamental bands of brickwork at different levels around its cylindrical shaft. The tower was supported by a cubical base and ended with a cupola over a bracketed balcony. Ibn Battuta visited Mosul in the14th century CE and recorded that the minaret had already begun to lean and was affectionately known by its nickname, "the Hunchback" (al-Hadba). The cause of al-Hadba’s iconic lean is disputed, although local officials attribute it either to the effects of thermal expansion of the brick on the sun-facing side, north-westerly winds, or the weak gypsum used in holding the bricks together. Unlike al-Nuri al-Kabir Mosque, the al-Hadba Minaret was never renovated or reconstructed, and had remained in its original form since 1172.
During the Iran-Iraq War shelling struck an area near the minaret, damaging underground pipes. This disruption in the ground resulted in the minaret leaning an additional 40 cm. In 2010 the minaret was included on the World Monuments Watch list. Prior to ISIL’s takeover of Mosul, the World Monuments Fund was working in cooperation with the Iraqi Institute of Antiquities and Heritage, preparing Iraqi and Kurdish students for future restoration work. This work came to a halt in June 2014.
Following ISIL’s takeover of the city in June 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi conducted a 21-minute sermon inside al-Nur al-Kabir Mosque where he asserted himself to be the group’s caliph. In July 2014, Mosul residents defied ISIL, protecting the site from imminent destruction. According to local residents present at the time, ISIL militants carrying heavy explosives converged on the site prompting those living nearby to rush “to the courtyard below the minaret, [sat] on the ground, and arms to form a human chain,” threatening the militants that they would have to kill them too if they intended to blow up the minaret. The mosque and minaret remained largely undamaged during three years of ISIL’s brutal rule over the city—although the dome of the mosque was damaged during ongoing military operations in the Old City—until June 21, 2017 in what may prove to be the final days of ISIL in Mosul.
ASOR CHI will continue to monitor the site as more details of its destruction emerge. Such appalling acts of retributory violence typify ISIL as the organization loses territory on multiple fronts and conducts a scorched earth policy. ASOR CHI strongly condemns this criminal act.
Click on the line below and scroll right and left to view Digital Globe satellite imagery of the site before and after destruction
Tabbaa, Yasser. 2002. “The Mosque of Nur al-Din in Mosul 1170.” Annales Islamologiques. 36:339–360.