Day 6 Erbil via Kirkuk
We drove for 3 hours over a long, straight plain to Erbil via Kirkuk. There was little to comment on bar the need to use the Kirkuk ring road to totally bypass the city (more bombings than Baghdad) and the amazing number of empty towns being built.
We picked up our new security detail at Erbil and quickly had a taste of things to come. They greeted G but studiously failed to acknowledge the rest of us. Our driver came highly recommended and was given instructions to look after D and I first if there was any trouble. Our Captain is a firearms instructor in the police and prides himself on being able to handle a pistol (which none of them are allowed to have on show in public).
We managed to get to the Erbil museum just before it closed and were lucky enough to arrive at the same time as a group of archaeologists bringing boxes of finds back to be processed. They were working at a site south of the City and showed us a beautiful stone carved slab and large, intact pots. There were dozens of crates of potsherds. G was delighted that he’d finally got to see the museum because it has always been closed when he’s visited before. It’s an excellent 4 room building with wonderful items on display, small grave goods (3,000 BC), glass phials, jewellery and stone statues. Two tiny pots in particular were stunning. One, complete, about 6 inches tall with a rounded base so it couldn’t stand unaided and another as thin as the best porcelain but incomplete. Both 3,000 BC. Remarkable and breath taking.
We then drove to the Citadel, founded 6,000 BC and continuously occupied. It’s now under a “renovation” overseen by UNESCO and is a horrendous sight. , Poor F was very upset because he and D had visited 5 years ago while it was still occupied by townsfolk and was vibrant and bustling. The main fortress is definitely falling apart and needs conservation work but they started demolishing it last year, house by house, and the unsympathetic reconstruction is rebuilding it to conform to a Disneyesque vision
We started to walk the grid from south to north, intending to wander through the cross streets and then have a closer look at the building work. As we paused to watch a workman using a sledgehammer to take an ancient house wall down, we were stopped by an officious guardian who wanted us to go because it was “too dangerous” due to snakes. We scoffed openly. He then tried a different tack and asked us to come back tomorrow, at which point G refused to budge.
After further discussion the guardian allowed us to take photos of the north gate ( a Saddam reconstruction being demolished to rebuild it) but when B and I stepped into a side house to take photos, he yelled at us to stop. Exasperated, G led us to the gift shop and demanded that they open it so that we could buy postcards. Unfortunately the kilim museum and the carpet shop selling rare Kurdistan war rugs remained closed.
Unable to wander any further, we walked to the bottom of the Citadel walls to look for the medieval souk. We discovered that it has been demolished and replaced with a modern market, built in the old style. There were a few interesting food stalls with fantastically fresh nuts (especially walnuts) but most of it was cheap, imported junk. The disappointment was alleviated by two lovely public parks and a wonderful dancing fountain which changes colour at night but the rest of the city is a nightmare sprawl of modern ugly buildings with a matching traffic snarl.
In the evening the group ate together at a long restaurant table on a pavement, much to the curiosity of the passing locals.