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The Taq Kasra in Iraq is said to have the world's largest single-span brick vault arch. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Recent damage to the Taq Kasra, a 1,500-year-old architectural masterpiece in Iraq, has renewed urgent calls for government officials and cultural heritage organizations to protect the Persian monument.

Located approximately 25 miles south of Baghdad, the Taq Kasra was built in 550 CE and dates back to the Sasanian era (ca. 224–651 CE). It is the only above-ground structure remaining of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, the former royal capital of the Persian Empire prior to the Muslim conquest. Known as the Archway of Ctesiphon, the monument is also architecturally significant for having the world’s largest single-span unreinforced brick vault arch.

According to a spokesperson from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), four meters of the arched roof collapsed following heavy rains in the region approximately 20 days ago. In a call between UNESCO and Ayad Hamza, director general of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), the latter said the site is in “dangerous and critical” condition and needs immediate support to the remaining part of the roof to prevent further collapse.

The UNESCO spokesperson told Hyperallergic that “no one from the Ministry of Culture or the Iraqi government asked UNESCO for any support.” They also noted that the site is not on its World Heritage List or Tentative List.

On social media, some have pointed to the building’s worsening state of disrepair in recent decades. Iranian and Iraqi officials had long discussed collaborating on the restoration of the monument, but the project never took off. In the wake of the most recent damage, Iran has agreed to restore the structure at an estimated cost of $600,000, Tehran Times reports.

Over the last few weeks, cultural preservation activists and organizations have criticized the local government for neglecting the monument. Among those urging immediate action is Liwan, an independent NGO led by a team of Iraqi archaeologists, architects, engineers, historians, and others concerned with safeguarding Iraq’s heritage.

“Taq Kasra is one of Iraq’s significant cultural sites. Like other major archaeological and cultural sites, there has been significant neglect due to lack of funding and support in Iraq,” Liwan told Hyperallergic. “The Ministry of Culture and the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, which are responsible for Taq Kasra, has not been allocated sufficient funds by the Iraqi government to engage in emergency interventions as well as conservation. It is an emergency crisis.”

Liwan attributes the Taq Kasra’s precarious state to the larger problem of insufficient resources allocated to protect the country’s architecture and monuments.

“Iraq has high caliber conservation experts but the work on Taq Kasra requires sufficient funding, which has not been coming,” Liwan said. “Taq Kasra is a glaring case of the neglect of Iraq’s cultural heritage in a context of Iraq’s politics. International support is required, namely financial support, to safeguard Taq Kasra from further collapse. Without international support, it is most likely Taq Kasra’s famous arch will collapse in the next few weeks and months.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...