These guides are currently inactive Anna Wachtmeister

Exposing Erbil

You might not have heard of Erbil (called Hawler in Kurdish) before, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan. It is a city of over one million people, and it is considered to be one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Erbil is relatively safe and therefore hasn’t been on the news as much as other nearby cities as Kirkuk and Mosul. This is also why Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Shabaks and Yazidis fleeing from Southern Iraq are still seeking refuge here. Being it in a phase of post-conflict development, Erbil hosts a meaningful expat circle that includes NGO communities, private security firms, the UN forces and oil companies. The lack of a formal ‘scene’ and the expat community allow for the possibility of easy last minute organisation. You can always make a phone call to someone who knows someone who might have a large living room for an improvised exhibition or a projector to lend for the evening. The cultural scene is a typical post-conflict international experience teeming with the complex atmosphere of optimism, contradictions, and frustrations! The people are very welcoming and pave the way for you to discover this still ‘untouched’ territory!


Francesca and Anna - Photo by Dimitris Ioannidis

Meet us, your guides in Erbil, Anna & Francesca. We'll start introducing you to Erbil in cafe Laffa, a Lebanese fast-food and takeaway with outdoor seating. After that we can help you find a home we have arranged for you to stay at during your adventure. Over some tea with your hosts, we will put together an exciting trip in this unpredictable city.

Hunting for treasure
Erbil is still nearly untouched by the global community, cultural elite or the tourist industry. The city still hasn’t been written, imagined, packaged and branded. The majority of intellectuals and artists live in exile and the institutions that underpin culture have little place in a region filled with paradox and such violent recent history. Finding contemporary cultural organisations, accessible cultural persons such as artists, sociologists, dancers and urbanists will take some time and finesse. This makes exploring Erbil a very different experience, albeit a bit daunting, but certainly less predictable and making every discovery a treasure! Spend today finding these hidden treasures around town from the Citadel to the Bazaar. You could start your journey by stopping at the rug museum, Erbil's pride and joy, or find out if you can locate some of the rarer textiles made by local women who still know the craft.

A ride around town
If you have an extra day to spend in Erbil don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Museum of Civilization (open from Sunday to Thursday between 9am and 2pm) to get a glimpse of what the past of this ancient city looked like. After a short walk past the newly established international University of Kurdistan – Hawler, you reach the Minaret Park armed guards greet you, music is played and dusty roses bloom.

After a short taxi ride from there to Shaklawa Road, you arrive at the big mosque that has been recently built as a faithful reproduction of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Once you are there, you are really close to Bakery and More the local Lebanese bakery - don’t forget to stop by and get an extra help of Arabic style sweets for your trip back!

T-Walls Art Tour
The T-Walls Tour: This will take you through the compounds, governmental buildings, NGO offices, churches, many universities and the better hotels that all lie behind tall heavy concrete T-walls. Murals have appeared on the walls and now it seems that ‘T-wall art’ is the emerging new public art form here!

Later make your own of latest Assyrian hits at the music store in the Christian neighbourhood of Ainkawa. The three men who hang out in the shop will engage you in interesting conversations about the past and the future of their people.

A day at the movies
Check out the Kurdish Cinema School! Established in 2004, they are struggling and in need of an audience! They are housed in a temporary accomodation in a secondary school and don’t have the money to pay teachers that have to come from abroad to instruct. There is no infrastructure for cinema. They do have a very dedicated student body that make short films financed out of their own pockets. With your experience in the field of film, this could be a golden opportunity for you to exchange experiences and ideas with these dialogue-hungry students!

Don't forget to stop by at one of the Shawarma places in town, bring everybody you know/just met. This could be a fun way to thank them for allowing you to enjoy their hospitality.

Other stuff

What to drink
Sweet tea
Turkish coffee
Bottled water

Taxi: around 3 dollars around town

This is a highly conservative society riddled with taboos...

The Kurdish region is relatively easy to move around in - crime is very low and attacks are rare, but you can never tell...

There are real gender restrictions and the city is male dominated. Only recently did the first women-only gym open, with swimming pool and Turkish Bath. The gym however is mainly a place for local privileged women to gather to drink tea and smoke arguile. There is also a women’s only hammam.

Sharp comments on local politics are better to be avoided in public, as are remarks on corruption. They are both generally discussed quite openly but might turn to sensitive and unwanted directions.

Clothing: prudent, covering and lose-fitting for women and conservative for men. Although at the western-style places like the fake Sheratón, on compounds and in private homes this is not the case. Expats wear what they like, usually nothing special as fads and fashion are not a matter of importance here. The desert sand does turn into thick mud when it rains and it does in wintertime! A pair of sturdy boots, even wellies could be recommended during the winter months.