Cradle of civilization. Fertile crescent. Breadbasket of the Middle East. While recent events in Iraq may be plastered all over the Sunday papers, the region has a history older than history itself. Not uncommonly, countries with a well defined past are apt to celebrate it. Museums litter the cities of places like Cairo, Athens or Rome. But it's different story in Iraq, and especially Kurdistan. 3 decades of war, conflict and sanctions have certainly taken their toll. The Kurdish capital of Erbil is home to 3 museums. None of which will ever win awards.
The newest kid on the block is the Syriac Heritage Museum, aka the
Ainkawa Museum. Located in the Christian suburb of Ainkawa, the place is arguably the leader of the pack. Celebrating the ancient Assyrian culture of Iraq the new and wonderfully climate controlled building is a welcome reprieve from the generally deteriorating local infrastructure. (Although i'm not so sure about the somewhat blinding power blue paint job.) The displays ranging from traditional costumes to ancient manuscript are well labelled in 4 languages (Arabic, Kurdish, Neo-Aramaic & English). There's even a multimedia area with videos and traditional music up on offer. Not to mention a staff with a number of moderate English speakers (they're my students afterall). But the place is a bit hard to find and Erbil taxi drivers will not know where it is. Besides, it would likely cost 5,000 IRQ for the taxi from the centre. Although nice enough, i'm not sure it's worth the effort.
Without question, the most popular and visited museum in the city is the
Kurdish Textile Museum. But the reason for this is not because of a vastly superior collection or facility, but it's all location, location, location. Located just inside the front gates of the Erbil Citadel, pretty much any tourist in the city is likely to stop by for a look. Housed in one of the old citys' houses, it is certainly the most aesthetically pleasing buildings. Natural light permeates through the fake stain-glass windows illuminating the central courtyard. But considering it's a specialty museum, you would really have to be a carpet-o-phile to spend an more than 10 minutes in the place. Plans are to expand to multiple buildings within the Citadel walls. Hopes are to bring back the dying art of carpet making. Seeing as you are likely to be nearby anyway, the museum is worth the little diversion, if for nothing other than the a/c.
Bring up the rear, WAY in the rear, is Erbils' oldest museum. The
Erbil Civilization Museum doesn't impress. Actually, the General director of the Kurdistan Region Culture Ministry was quoted as saying"a disgrace to Kurdistan's reputation". Simple displays uninspiringly show the 3,500 pieces complete with errors in labelling (not just English errors, but period and material errors). The museum simply is not up to snuff. This coupled with the fact that it's location, south of the Citadel on Kirkuk road near the Sheraton Hotel, is hard to find, it's certainly not recommendable. The building is tucked back in a parking lot off the street.
The good news is, all the museums are free. They are open Sunday to Thursday with the exception of the Textile Museum which always seems to be open.
Erbil doesn't really have tonnes to entertain the tourists. Many travellers find themselves budgeting too much time in the city. And even though boredom sets in quickly and one might find themselves looking for anything to do, the museums in town are only for the super hard core museum enthusiast. They have little to offer the average traveller.