UofG academic leads efforts to save earthquake damaged castle in Iraq

Published: 20 February 2018

Dr Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, is leading the project to help stabilise and restore the Qala Shirwana Castle.

Glasgow-team visit to the Qala Shirwana in February 2018

A University of Glasgow academic is leading an international rescue effort to save a famous Kurdish landmark in northern Iraq. 

The Qala Shirwana is a 200 year old castle which was badly damaged when a powerful earthquake shook the region late last year.

As one of the Kurdish region’s most recognised landmarks, the baked brick castle attracts around 100,000 visitors each year and features prominently in the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) drive to attract more international tourists.

Now Dr Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, is leading the Qala Shirwana Cultural Heritage Project (QaSCHP) to help stabilise and restore this important historic monument.

Dr Glatz is an expert in the archaeology of the ancient Near East and co-director of the Sirwan Regional Project, an international archaeological research project that has been exploring this region since 2013.

The archaeologist, who has just returned from a site visit to Qala Shirwana, said: “The castle is of immense significance to the local population, who are still coming to visit it despite the earthquake damage. During our trip to Iraq, we carried out preliminary research into the castle’s history, which includes many architectural modifications, damage and rebuilding over the course of the past two centuries.

“Together with our colleagues in Kurdistan we are developing a plan to stabilise and rebuild the structure using traditional materials and techniques wherever possible.”
On November 12, 2017, a powerful earthquake shook the Kurdish region of north-east Iraq and neighbouring parts of Iran. More than 500 people died and over 7000 were injured.

The castle suffered significant structural damages as the shocks dislocated walls, terraces and caused the collapse of a central cupola on the structure’s roof. The four main towers also sustained significant cracks.


 The Qala Shirwana is located on the outskirts of the modern town of Kalar, one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s fast-growing urban areas.

Shirwana Castle is a picturesque 19th century baked brick structure, whose construction is ascribed to Muhammad Pasha Khasro beg-i-Jaff, a local tribal leader under the Ottoman Empire between 1866-1874.

QaSCHP is carried out in close collaboration with the staff of the Garmian Directorate of Antiquities including its Director Shwkr Muhammed Haydar; Salih Muhammad Samin (Deputy Director) and MNawzad Latif (Archaeologist) with the assistance of Glasgow-based PhD student, Neil Erskine.

The project is funded by the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Professor Salma Samar Damluji of the American University of Beirut, an architect and specialist in earth and vernacular architecture, acts as a consultant to the project.

The Qala Sirwana is built on top of one of the tallest archaeological sites in the Garmian region, whose occupation history spans several millennia. The castle is unique in Kurdistan in its exceptional state of preservation and, together with the Erbil citadel, it is one of the most celebrated and publicised tourist attractions in Kurdistan.

Before its damage, the castle housed the Folkloric Museum of Garmian, a collection of around 400 artefacts from the region and historic photographs providing glimpses of Kalari life and urban development over the course of the last century.

Following an initial phase that saw the removal of earthquake rubble, the second phase of the Project will focus on the stabilisation of the most affected parts of the castle. A third and final phase will focus on the reconstruction of the central cupola and the castle’s interior. Visit the project's website to follow its progress.

For more information contact Aine Allardyce in the University of Glasgow Communications and Public Affairs Office on 0141 330 7126 or email aine.allardyce@glasgow.ac.uk


First published: 20 February 2018