Rebuilding the Mosul Cultural Museum: A Symbol of Hope and Resilience

Thursday, May 11, 2023
Rebuilding the Mosul Cultural Museum: A Symbol of Hope and Resilience

Restoration plans for Iraq’s Mosul Cultural Museum (MCM) and its collection illustrate its importance within architectural and world history, placing the museum at the center of Mosul’s cultural and community regeneration.

The museum, the second largest in Iraq after the National Museum in Baghdad, was established in 1952 to tell the story of northern Iraq—a story of global importance that encompasses the very beginning of written history—in galleries dedicated to prehistory, Assyria, Hatra, and Islam.

Following Mosul’s capture by Daesh in 2014, artifacts of global significance were looted and destroyed, and the Mosul Cultural Museum—designed by Iraq’s leading modernist architect, Mohamed Makiya, at the height of his career—was compromised in a deliberate attack aimed at the erasure of history and culture. Major Assyrian monumental works that were damaged or destroyed during Daesh’s attack include a colossal lion from Nimrud, two lamassu (guardian) figures, the significant Banquet Stele, and the throne base of King Ashurnasirpal II. Over 28,000 books and rare manuscripts were burned.

Since 2018, the museum is gradually being brought back to life through a unique international consortium led by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), in partnership with the Musée du Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution, and supported and funded by the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH). The partners have been stabilizing the building, starting the restoration of its collections, as well as training and equipping the Mosul Cultural Museum team with the tools required for the site’s full-scale rehabilitation. World Monuments Fund (WMF) joined the consortium in 2020 to define the restoration and rehabilitation program for the museum building and its surroundings.

The façade of the Mosul Cultural Museum under construction (1970-72)

Once the restoration works are complete, the goal is for the museum to resume its position as a cultural landmark for the citizens of Mosul, and more widely, as a cultural center of the region, with a multipurpose space for social exchange, dialogue, memory, and learning. To that end, urban renewal, sustainability, and knowledge exchange are key features of the project. World Monuments Fund is overseeing the architectural conservation project with a focus on urban renewal, community engagement, and sustainability in museum restoration, security, and maintenance, while the Smithsonian Institution’s work is focused on strengthening capacity in museum management and visitor experience.

The Musée du Louvre is working with MCM staff to conserve and reconstruct three major stone sculptures (the Banquet Stele, the throne base and the lion of Nimrud) and fragments of metal plaques recovered from the site of Balawat, so that they can be displayed once again. Objects on display will include many saved from destruction when they were moved to the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, before the start of the Iraq War in 2003. Additionally, gallery spaces will exhibit artifacts from ongoing archeological excavations.

For ALIPH, this project represents its largest and most ambitious to date, supporting the development of the work since the beginning, and financing and accompanying all the partners through each stage.

Over the course of the project, the team will continue to exchange with SBAH architects and engineers and other local professionals in the implementation of the work and in the future monitoring and maintenance of the museum building and its technical equipment.

The reopened Mosul Cultural Museum—referred to as “the identity of Mosul” by locals—will again become a center of culture and education not just for Moslawis, but for Iraqis and international visitors.

The restoration phase will honor Makiya’s original vision and has been conceived with the SBAH in collaboration with Iraqi and international experts, including London-based Donald Insall Associates, known for UK heritage conservation projects, led by architect Tanvir Hasan. Alterations made in later years to make the building less susceptible to conflict damage, such as reinforcements to the main façade and the closing of two terraces, will be undone to open the building up and increase natural light. Sensitive interventions will ensure that the 1970s building meets modern accessibility and sustainability expectations.

The garden will be revived by Lebanese-Iraqi architect Dr. Jala Makhzoumi, reestablishing much-needed green space in Mosul and forming a valuable addition to Mosul’s green hub, which includes Al Shuhadaa Park and Al Baladia Square. Eventually, this will connect with Al Remah Square and the banks of the Tigris River, contributing to the wider regeneration of the area.

The part of the museum that suffered the most damage during Daesh’s attack was the central Assyrian Gallery, where the detonation of a bomb opened a large crater in the floor. The memory of the devastating attack will be retained, with the footprint of the damage visible when the floor is fully reenforced.

Image on top : Damaged entrance of the Mosul Cultural Museum 

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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