After Decades of Looting, Mosul Museum Plans to Reopen

Established in 1952 and designed by modernist architect Mohamed Makiya, the Mosul Cultural Museum (MCM) is the second largest in Iraq and home to vast collections of prehistoric, Assyrian, Hatran, and Islamic artifacts that chronicle the history of northern Iraq and its peoples. This week, officials unveiled long-awaited plans for the restoration of the building, which is slated to reopen in 2026.

Museum workers document and inventory artifacts.

In 2014, the MCM suffered extensive damage and looting under the capture of the Islamic State (IS). However, this event was not the first instance the institution’s collections were at risk. During the Iraq War, the MCM sent its collections to the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad for safekeeping. Unfortunately, when US troops invaded the city in 2003, over 15,000 items from that institution were looted, and many others were destroyed, according to the museum’s website. Although some objects were recovered, the National Museum is still searching for many of its stolen collections.

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During the IS’s 2014 seizure of the museum, more than 28,000 books and rare manuscripts were burned, according to a recent press release about the restoration project. Many artifacts and artworks were also looted, and several major Assyrian works — including three stone sculptures, some tablets engraved with cuneiform, and metal plaque fragments — were harmed or destroyed, according to official reports. Large pieces that date back to the Neo-Assyrian period were reduced to mere fragments. And a bomb explosion left a large, gaping crater in the floor of the central Assyrian Gallery, where much of the damage was concentrated. 

Since 2018, an international coalition of cultural institutions and organizations led by the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) has been working to repair and revitalize the museum. As part of the restoration, officials say they plan to keep a footprint of the damage done to the Assyrian Gallery floor as a visible reminder of the devastating attack. 

In addition to fixing the damage left by the IS, the coalition plans to make some much-needed updates to the building, including reviving the garden, increasing the natural light, and making the building overall more accessible and sustainable.

Coinciding with the restoration launch, museum officials also announced a new exhibition, The Mosul Cultural Museum: From Destruction to Rehabilitation, on display in the MCM’s nearby former home, the Royal Hall, from May 12 through June 1. The exhibition chronicles the history of the MCM and showcases the vision for its future through photography, video, and 3D models. After June 1, the exhibition will move to museum garden gates, where it will be digitized for a trilingual panel format. For those unable to travel to Iraq, an online version of the exhibition is available.

View of the main façade of the Mosul Cultural Museum in 2018


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