Erbil travel takes you to a city that, some believe, was established almost 6000 years ago. It is known as the world’s oldest continually inhabited settlement, and as such, is rich with archeological and cultural curiosities. Aided by the construction of a modern international airport in 2010, which currently welcomes flights to Erbil from many cities worldwide, it is fast becoming a tourist and commercial centre.
The establishment of the City of Erbil dates back to the 12th Century beginning as a settlement situated on a slightly elevated area, or mound, out of which grew the historic Citadel. The Citadel, or Qala’t Erbil, is the area that has been continuously inhabited for millennia. The exact origins of the settlement and the mound upon which it is built are still shrouded in mystery, and although there are existing theories, archeological excavations to make more accurate determinations are planned. While the Citadel itself is the most ancient part of the city there are also other sites and areas of interest in the wider City of Erbil.
Erbil is a flourishing business hub with an impressive growth rate. Its free trade zone is attracting plentiful foreign investment with opportunities across numerous sectors, including construction, property development, oil and gas. Erbil is a city with grand expansion plans, already in evidence with the opening of gleaming new shopping malls and dozens of construction projects underway across the city.
One of the distinct features of the Citadel is its architecture featuring structures built with traditional materials going back generations. The oldest building in the Citadel is the Qala’ Hammam, an ancient bathhouse, believed to have been originally built in 1775. A compact area, you can walk the length of the Citadel within an hour or so following its labyrinth of narrow alleyways that spread out like the branches of a tree from the main gate.
You can take in several areas across the city, including the Bradost Mountains, from an elevated position on a novel conveyance called Shinglbana, a rail-guided cart that stretches for some 1400 metres over Erbil.
As you enter the Citadel there is a collection of bazaars, also called Kaisary market, where a variety of household goods and tools are sold. Further out in the city proper, is the Sami Abdul Rahaman Park, the largest in the city, some say the country, and a favourite among locals offering serene swaths of green areas as well as lakes. The Shanidar Park is far more urban dotted with cafes and with an unusual art gallery at the centre of the park, built like a hybrid of a cave and fortress complete with water features and stalactites. A visit to Shar Garden Square is also a must, with its cooling fountains, trendy cafes and charming teashops.
There is also a range of dining spots throughout the city offering regional and international cuisine, as well as live entertainment.
About 25km from the city is the Fortress of Banaman, an ancient military fortress rebuilt in 2005, offering a journey into the past. Some three hours from Erbil is the Gali Ali Bag waterfall, some say the highest in the Middle East, located at the intersection of the Korek and Bradost mountain ranges. The garden resort of Shaqlawa has a history of tourism and attracts visitors from all around the region to its hotels and casinos among other things.