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Smithsonian partners with Iraqi authorities and international heritage consortium to rehabilitate Mosul Museum
Saad Ahmed, the Mosul Cultural Museum’s head of conservation (left), and Zaid Ghazi Saadullah, the museum’s director, examine a wood cenotaph in the Mosul Cultural Museum’s Islamic Hall in February 2019.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The building and collection of Iraq’s Mosul Cultural Museum suffered tremendous damage at the hands of the Islamic State group. Now, the museum is gradually being brought back to life through a unique international partnership between the Smithsonian Institution, the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), the Musée du Louvre, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH). Since 2018, the founding members of this consortium have been stabilizing the building and collection in preparation for the full-scale rehabilitation. The goal is to return this museum to the citizens of Mosul as quickly as possible and to allow this important cultural landmark to showcase Iraq’s rich culture once again.

“Restoring the Mosul Cultural Museum represents a victory of knowledge over ignorance, respect over intolerance, unity over division, humanity over brutality,” said Richard Kurin, Smithsonian distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-large.

Six years ago to the day, Feb. 26, 2015, the Islamic State group released videos on social media documenting the destruction of the Mosul Cultural Museum, sending shockwaves throughout the world. This museum, the second largest in Iraq after the National Museum in Baghdad, housed pre-Islamic treasures from Nimrud and Hatra as well as Parthian and Assyrian masterpieces. The extent of the destruction was not known by the international community until the liberation of Mosul in July 2017.

One year later, in June 2018, the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities requested that ALIPH financially support its project to rehabilitate the museum and its collections. ALIPH approved a first grant of over $1.3 million, and the Smithsonian and the Musée du Louvre joined the project to lend their expertise and support the Iraqi teams. Representatives from the Smithsonian, the Musée du Louvre and ALIPH then worked together with the Iraqi teams to identify the project priorities, and the Smithsonian stabilized the building by fortifying doors, replacing windows and reinforcing exterior fences.

The partners carried out a damage assessment of the collection, which revealed that much of the collection—including a colossal lion from Nimrud, the Banquet Stela, a monumental Lamassu and a precious wooden cenotaph—had been heavily damaged. Many museum artifacts had disappeared, and 25,000 volumes in the library had been burned.

As a first step in the preservation of the collection, artifact fragments were painstakingly sorted, documented, cleaned and stored. The Smithsonian and the team in Mosul then set up a basic conservation laboratory for urgent first-aid restoration of the objects on site.

Despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, local teams have continued their work in compliance with sanitary measures. In July 2020, IT equipment was delivered to museum staff so they could follow a complete training program prepared by the Musée du Louvre. In the second half of 2020, the Smithsonian provided additional recovery supplies to the staff and supported further stabilization measures for the museum building, such as stabilizing an outdoor Assyrian tomb exhibit, cleaning out the remaining rubble and debris from the administrative wing in the basement, repairing toilet facilities on site and clearing out the gardens for better security and to reduce fire hazards. In addition, Smithsonian staff provided training to complement the Louvre training sessions. Additional professional development and training for museum staff is scheduled to continue in the coming months.

WMF joined the consortium in 2020 and has been entrusted with the task of defining the restoration and rehabilitation program for the museum building and its surroundings. An expert mission it conducted in February will pave the way for a new stage of this collective effort: the reconstruction and development of the future museum, which is expected to reopen to the public within a few years.

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