Erbil is the ancient Arbel, an important Assyrian political and religious center that is considered as one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on the planet. Nowadays, the city is the fourth largest in Iraq and is also the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region located in the north of the country.
As its most important landmark, the citadel of Erbil sits on the top of an imposing hill, with the continuous wall formed by the facades of nineteenth-century houses giving it the visual impression of an unattainable fortress that overlooks the city of Erbil. The citadel has a street layout dating back to the Ottoman period of the city and which, together with other traits, has afforded it a World Heritage Site title.
Outside the citadel, a series of parks, century-old minarets, and a very active bazaar – as full of life as any bazaar in the Middle East – dot the landscape. Along the bazaar’s streets one can find everything from household, to children’s clothes, and local tobacco. On top of that, the genuine and widespread sense of welcome floats in the air: everyone wants to know where you are from, what you think of Iraq and, above all, about Kurdistan. As you explore the rest of the city, make sure to visit on of the many tea houses, wander around the abandoned Arab quarter (Kurds are a distinct ethnic group), or simply sink into the bustling life of Erbil’s main square, where locals meet and socialize.