Proposed Statement of Outstanding Universal Value

Brief Synthesis
Sennacherib’s irrigation system was built by the Neo-Assyrian ruler to bring water to his new capital, Nineveh, and to irrigate its hinterland. The complex covers an area of over 3,500 km2 located in northern Iraq, between the plain of Mosul (ancient Nineveh) and the Duhok governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The complex was built in four successive phases between 702 and 688 BC. The third phase is represented by the sites of Maltai (four rock reliefs with Sennacherib in adoration before gods of the Assyrian pantheon) and Bandawai (underground channel and Shiru Maliktha relief). The fourth phase, with the sites of Khinis and Jerwan, is the most monumental. At Khinis the beginning of the canal was celebrated by a large rock relief, a monolith with lamassu and a series of twelve niches, while Jerwan is the oldest known aqueduct. With respect to hydraulic and engineering aspects, the water-management system is unique for its time. The canals, with a total length of more than 150 km, maintain a regular slope but follow the lie of the land, crossing the numerous wadis on stone aqueducts. The Jerwan aqueduct is a building of great value, made of finely worked ashlar blocks; it is 280 m long and crossed the wadi on four piers erected using the false vault technique and protected by breakwaters. But Sennacherib’s system is also remarkable from a historical and artistic point of view, for not only was the work commemorated by imposing rock reliefs, but also described in the inscriptions in cuneiform characters present in three niches at Khinis (Bavian inscription) and on stone blocks at Jerwan.

Brief Synthesis
Sennacherib’s irrigation system was built by the Neo-Assyrian ruler to bring water to his new capital, Nineveh, and to irrigate its hinterland. The complex covers an area of over 3,500 km2 located in northern Iraq, between the plain of Mosul (ancient Nineveh) and the Duhok governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The complex was built in four successive phases between 702 and 688 BC. The third phase is represented by the sites of Maltai (four rock reliefs with Sennacherib in adoration before gods of the Assyrian pantheon) and Bandawai (underground channel and Shiru Maliktha relief). The fourth phase, with the sites of Khinis and Jerwan, is the most monumental. At Khinis the beginning of the canal was celebrated by a large rock relief, a monolith with lamassu and a series of twelve niches, while Jerwan is the oldest known aqueduct. With respect to hydraulic and engineering aspects, the water-management system is unique for its time. The canals, with a total length of more than 150 km, maintain a regular slope but follow the lie of the land, crossing the numerous wadis on stone aqueducts. The Jerwan aqueduct is a building of great value, made of finely worked ashlar blocks; it is 280 m long and crossed the wadi on four piers erected using the false vault technique and protected by breakwaters. But Sennacherib’s system is also remarkable from a historical and artistic point of view, for not only was the work commemorated by imposing rock reliefs, but also described in the inscriptions in cuneiform characters present in three niches at Khinis (Bavian inscription) and on stone blocks at Jerwan.

Justification for criteria
The inclusion of the complex in the WHTL is thus proposed on the basis of the following criteria:
Category ii: the monuments “exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design”
Sennacherib’s hydraulic system was the most advanced version of a series of experiments conducted by Assyrian rulers from the 13th century BC onwards to increase the fertility of a semi-arid land subject to the uncertainties of seasonal rainfall. The economy of Assyrian society was based on farming and therefore every technical and engineering effort was aimed at improving agricultural productivity. The network of canals commissioned by Sennacherib was therefore not only intended to bring water to the gardens and royal palace of Nineveh, but also to irrigate farmland on a regular basis. Furthermore, this system of connections between natural and artificial watercourses made it easier to move between the city and the surrounding countryside and facilitated the transport of goods. Sennacherib’s water-management complex thus constituted a technological development that resulted in an evident and useful transformation of the Assyrian landscape.
Category iii: the monuments “bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared”
The water system is of exceptional value not only from the perspective of technological progress, but also from an artistic and cultural viewpoint. The rock reliefs that celebrate the sovereign’s work and that establish his presence on the landscape are a unique manifestation of Assyrian art and of fundamental importance for our understanding of that society in its relationship with power and religion. The Maltai and Khinis rock reliefs, in particular, illustrate not only an artistic development – in which the more cursory representation of the Maltai reliefs is followed by a more natural rendering of the human figure in Khinis, but also demonstrate a modified concept of royalty and relationship with the gods. A vision of the sovereign in worship before the main deities of the Assyrian pantheon (Maltai) is replaced by that of a king primus inter pares in the company of the divine couple Ashur and Mullissu/Ninlil. The inscriptions of Khinis and those of the Jerwan aqueduct are historical and linguistic documents of exceptional value.
Category iv: the monuments are “an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”.
Sennacherib’s water network was technologically advanced, especially for the era in which it was built. In fact, moving beyond the always very local and limited efforts of the previous sovereigns, Sennacherib’s system may be seen as a unique and complex enterprise that covered the entire agricultural hinterland of the capital Nineveh. The canals, dug into the limestone bedrock of the hillsides and the earth of the neighbouring alluvial plains, maintained a regular slope and were equipped with stairs and walkways for cleaning. The water was taken from several points along the way, while secondary canals left the main ones to reach all the agricultural fields.
The Jerwan aqueduct is an exceptional example of this infrastructure type and may be considered the earliest known true stone aqueduct. The structure contains technical features not seen previously, such as the construction in carefully finished geometric ashlar blocks with rusticated surfaces, paving in regular slabs laid on concrete, buttressed side walls and, above all, four large piers equipped with breakwaters that allowed the passage of wadi water under false vaults. The whole hydraulic system in general, and the aqueduct in particular, represent a significant moment in human historical development.
Category v: the monuments are “an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change”.
The core region of Assyria was sustained by an essentially agricultural economy on land that was particularly fertile but conditioned by rainfall. As stated by Sennacherib himself in the Bavian inscription, his work allowed fields abandoned due to drought to be used again, and made harvests non wholly determined by rainfall. In short, the irrigation system made it possible to supplement the rain-dependant extensive cultivation traditionally characteristic of the region, with increased production made possible by intensive irrigation agriculture and the consequent development of the rural economy. This was real landscape engineering, based on an environmentally friendly and sustainable intervention adapted to the characteristics of the territory. Sennacherib’s enterprise led to a transformation of the Nineveh region, increasing its habitability and favouring human settlement. It is one of the oldest known examples of centrally planned human alteration of the environment in which the Assyrian imperial administration intervened in this land to exploit its full potential, thus permitting the socio-economic growth of the entire population.

Statement of integrity
The third and fourth phases of Sennacherib’s irrigation complex are substantially intact, both in terms of landscape presence and individual monuments. In the Shifka Valley it is still possible to follow the path of the original channel from Khinis to Jerwan, in a landscape that appears substantially unchanged from the Assyrian era. The River Gomel is still today the main watercourse in the area – which, as in antiquity, is dotted with small farming villages. The same landscape integrity is found in the suggestive Bandawai Valley and on the rugged slopes of Maltai. In this context the individual sites, despite having been subject over time to transformations, the removal of material and acts of vandalism, have maintained intact their original atmosphere, as well as the celebratory message carved into the rock. Furthermore, in Khinis a large part of the quarry from which stone was probably extracted to build the Jerwan aqueduct has survived. Signs left by quarrying, holes for anchoring the blocks and the “tracks” along which they were dragged are clearly visible. On the whole, in this isolated and impervious mountain gorge Sennacherib is still strongly present and with him all of Assyrian civilization. At Jerwan too, although the aqueduct has been partially robbed out over time for the reuse of its blocks, the functionality and grandeur of this extraordinary work of engineering are still perfectly comprehensible.

Protection and management requirements
The body responsible for the protection of archaeological complexes in the area is the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities, which in recent years has carried out a series of initiatives regarding organization and protection, especially at Khinis and Jerwan. In particular, the archaeological areas have been partially fenced and custody services have been started. The archaeological sites belonging to the hydraulic system, however, have not been sufficiently protected and enhanced, so that registration in the WHTL must necessarily be associated with a management plan that regards the entire territory. For this reason, the Archaeological Park of Sennacherib’s Irrigation System has been designed to include the Shifka Valley within its borders, together with the Khinis and Jerwan sites. The Maltai and Bandawai archaeological and landscape sites are connected to the park by means of IT systems and guided tours, on the basis of a “network” system. The short-term objectives are the definition of the core and buffer zones of the various areas in the park and the installation of information totems at the entrance to the monuments that explain their nature and features. Other medium-term interventions will be the conservation of the rock reliefs of Khinis and Maltai, organization of the Maltai, Bandawai and Shifka Valley tourist itineraries, and cleaning and highlighting the pier bases of the Jerwan aqueduct.
In the long term, it is planned to create a Museum Centre in the Archaeological Park, which will become a management and cultural centre where training courses, meetings with young people of school age, and recreational and cultural initiatives may be organized. The aim is to increase local awareness of historical roots and thus favour respect for and enjoyment of this important cultural heritage. The idea of creating a “Garden of Peace”, a place for reflection, meetings and social integration, is based on the conviction that strong local participation is essential for the survival of Sennacherib’s canal system. The training of local operators, already started in the past by LoNAP, is another fundamental aspect for the project’s success and for the start of serious and constant monitoring activity. In addition to revenue from ticket sales and tourist accommodation, in the long term the Archaeological Park will be sustained by the commencement of productive activities connected to it: farms specialized in selling typical local products, craft workshops, guided tours and trekking on horseback.

UNESCO World Heritage List – NOMINATION FORMAT

icona-working-team

WORKING TEAM

The first phase of the methodological path consisted of the acquisition of the cartographic documentation relating to the archaeological complex…

READ MORE

icona-archeo-park

ARCHAEO PARK

The project is aimed at the conservation of cultural heritage and the strengthening of the local economy through the creation of an Archaeological Environmental Park.

READ MORE

icona-nomination-format

NOMINATION FORMAT

Sennacherib’s irrigation system was built by the Neo-Assyrian ruler to bring water to his new capital, Nineveh, and to irrigate its hinterland.

READ MORE

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt