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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Visit to Salahaddin Ayoubi's Hometown

The famed Arab leader 'Salahaddin Ayoubi' had roots in Kurdistan

The minute you leave the Pirmam town in Erbil city, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on the left side of the main street, there is a narrow side street that goes through Armawa and Zrgos villages.

Driving 10 minutes from Zrgos, you will see castle ruins on a top of a mountain on the left side of the street, and on the right side, an old graveyard. The castle and the area are called Dwin, the hometown of Saladin Ayoubi. Saladin was a Kurdish Muslim, who became the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, and founded the Ayoubi Dynasty. He led Muslim and Arab opposition to the Franks and other European Crusaders in the Levant. At the height of his power, his sultanate included Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Hijaz and Yemen. Under his leadership, his forces defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, leading the way to recapturing Palestine, which the Crusaders had seized from the Fatimid Egyptians 88 years earlier.

Internationally, there is not much information about Dwin village or city. The only mention is that Saladin's parents came from Dwin. Locally, there are some books about Saladin's family, how they lived and what they did and about Saladin's tribe, the Zarzary. The most notable is a book written by Kurdish historian Abdul Khaleq Sarsam, who died two years ago, which says the castle belonged to Saladin's grandfather, Jalaladdin.

The foundation of the castle and some parts of the walls are clearly visible, and the castle's guard posts are still partially standing. The castle is built of mountain stone, one of the reasons it hasn't disappeared completely. The castle is on high ground and controlled the road on both directions. Rene Turner -- a heritage expert who works for British Conservation and Development Company, a consultancy company that wrote the renovation master plan for Erbil's 7,000-years-old Citadel -- believes the castle and its guard posts were built to watch and protect the village, which is at the foot of the mountain, on the river. You can still see remnants of the village that was once the home of Saladin's grandfather. Out of personal interest, Turner has visited the site several times and believes it has potential as a tourist attraction, especially if a small archaeological team cleans the site and uncovers the ground floor of the castle. But Turner does not recommend rebuilding the castle. "There is no information so far on what the castle looked like. A castle should not be rebuilt there based on imagination, because then it will become Disney." He added, "Cleaning the site and adding some signs about its history and background is more attractive for tourists than to rebuild the castle based on imagination."

A historical graveyard sits on the opposite side of the road. Some of the graves have inscriptions, while others are blank. Turner says the graves date back to different eras. The graves at the beginning of the graveyard are from the era of the Zoroastrian, a religion and philosophy from the sixth century. The graves have suns, daggers and swords, three symbols of the Zoroastrian religion. The graves beside a rock wall date back to Saladin's era. According to local legend, one of the graves belongs to Saladin's grandfather. A third group of graves is around 200 years old, some with beautiful inscriptions, most notably inscriptions for knights.

Kurdistan was listed among the top 20 tourist destinations in 2010 by National Geographic and The Washington Post. Kurdistan has more than 3,000 heritage sites and 98 percent of them have not yet been cleaned, restored or excavated

The Kurdish Globe

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