The remains of Hatra, the ancient capital of Arab kings, lie west of Mosul, 300 kms north of Baghdad, on the windswept steppes of the Ninawa governorate in northern Iraq.
Originally an important caravanserai on the fabled Silk Road crossing Mesopotamia, Hatra grew into a permanent settlement under the Parthian Empire of Persia, becoming capital of an independent Arab kingdom around 3 BCE.
Heavily fortified by a moat and eight kilometres of double walls, topped by more than a hundred watchtowers, it withstood attack by Roman legions, before finally falling to Sassanid armies around 241 CE.
Archaeologists did not visit Hatra until the twentieth century when they were astonished to find a fusion of Hellenistic, Parthian and Asian architecture, as distinct from the pure Roman style of other cities in the Middle East such as Jerash in the Kingdom of Jordan.
In the heart of the complex stands an awesome temple, attributed to King Sanatruq I, and dedicated to Shamesh, the Babylonian Sun God and supreme deity of Hatra.
On a plinth inside the temple is the statue of a woman, obviously a person of some importance, but whose simply sign reads: Statue of Abu, Daughter of Dimion, 200 BCE. The curious aspect is the position of her right hand held in the classic abhaya mudra posture seen in statues of the Buddha, emphasizing the blend of religions and culture once existent in Hatra.
Sculptures of other deities include Tyche (guardian goddess of Hatra), Apollo (known in Hatra as Balmarin), Poseidon and Eros, all of whom had individual temples. Archaeologists consider several bulls’ heads on the site may indicate secret male rituals practised by Hatrian or Hatrene citizens.
A powerful expression of Iraq’s ancient heritage, Hatra was inscribed on the UN World Heritage List in 1987.
It was destroyed by IS/DAESH in 2015.