First Published: 2014-02-18

Iraq’s landmark leaning minaret in danger of collapse
Dangerous security situation in Mosul is preventing international experts from coming and helping save Al Hadba minaret.
Middle East Online

By Abdullah Salem – MOSUL, Iraq

Hadba tower has had a significant lean since at least the 14th century

The Al Hadba minaret, located at the western entrance to one of Iraq’s most dangerous cities, is a beloved symbol for many locals.

The minaret, whose name means “the hunchback”, is part of Mosul’s Great Nurid Mosque, which was built around 1172. And the reason the 45-meter-high tower is called the hunchback is because it has been leaning “253 cm off the perpendicular axe for years”, Iraq’s UNESCO office reports. In fact, the landmark is fairly similar to the leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

However unlike Pisa’s leaning tower, Mosul’s is in danger of collapse. The tower has had a significant lean since at least the 14th century. Despite measures made to shore it up in the 1970s, cracks have continued to appear in the base. The fact that the minaret sits on swampy land with high ground water content is not helping either.

What has endangered the famous tower most though are the security conditions in the city. International expertise in restoration and geology is required to keep the medieval minaret upright.

In September 2012, Ninawa’s provincial authorities had signed a memorandum of understanding with UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, that would allow for a study on how the leaning minaret could best be preserved.

Ninawa’s governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, says that such a plan for cooperation was one of the first of its kind in the area. And since then there have been many suggestions made as to how the minaret could be saved.

These have included removing the ancient interior and replacing it with stronger, modern materials so that only the edifice was original as well as removing the whole minaret, piece by piece, shoring up the base, and then reconstructing it on the original site.

In every case though, international experts will be required to help. And given the violence that still plagues Mosul – it is known as a base for Sunni extremists and a flashpoint for sectarian and ethnic clashes – those international experts can hardly be expected to travel here.

“Security conditions in Ninawa today – and probably in the near future too – simply don’t encourage any investment in this area,” says a local engineer.

Still, it is certain that the people of Mosul want to preserve their leaning tower. Many businesses in the city use Al Hadba in their name, as do sports teams. The city itself is known throughout Iraq for its askew minaret and the minaret’s picture appears on Iraqi postage stamps, coins and bank notes.

And to this day, many locals – no matter what their religion or ethnicity – tell stories about Al Hadba. Some say that the minaret is crooked because the Prophet Mohammed passed by and the tower bowed to him. Others say it was the Virgin Mary who passed by. It is clear though, that no matter what their religious or political affiliation; the people of Mosul want to save their minaret.

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