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Ellipses & Circles

Observing the land and surroundings in which we live

Hatra, elliptical city

Translated Jeff Matthews

Located in the northern part of Iraq, the Mesopotamian city of Hatra, today al-Hadr, is just a bit more than two kilometers south of the Tharthar river and not quite 50 km west of the Tigris.

The city was founded between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC by the Seleucid dynasty and was then incorporated into the territory of the Parthians. The city was besieged unsuccessfully by Roman emperors Trajan  and Pertinax but eventually fell under the dominion of Rome. In the middle of the third century it was conquered by Shappuhr 1, king of Persia; eventually it fell into disuse and was was abandoned.

Satellite images show that the perimeter of the city is an irregular ellipse. It is surrounded by a belt wall reenforced by numerous towers along a trench averaging about 40 meters in width and measuring about 2300 m on the outer perimter and 1940 m on the inner.

Within the city a large central area stands out, itself encircled by a trench, with outer and inner perimeters of 442 and 327 meters, respectively, dedicated to the sun god, Shamash. An external urban area has survived with dwellings and also a courtyard of rough bricks.

In the 1985 the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

You may view Hatra from above, for example, on Google Maps. The coordinates are 35°35’18.0” N – 42°43’02.3” E (Google Maps: 35.588334, 42.717306). Good viewing!

Gianluca Padovan (Ass.ne S.C.A.M. – F.N.C.A.)

Recent update added by Jeff Matthews: Actions by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which occupied the area in mid-2014, have been a major threat to Hatra. In early 2015 they announced their intention to destroy many artifacts, claiming that such "graven images" were un-Islamic, encouraged polytheism, and could not be permitted to exist. Isis militants pledged to destroy the remaining artifacts. Shortly thereafter, they released a video showing the destruction of some artifacts from Hatra.

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