Nasiriyah, Iraq – The wheel was invented there, the Hammurabi Code was first created – or the rule of law, and where oil was originally burned as a source of energy.
This is the ancient Iraqi city of Ur – located in the province of Di Qaar, 300 km (200 miles) south of the capital Baghdad – and where Pope Francis plans to visit during his historic three-day trip to the country.
More than 6,000 years ago, Ur emerged as one of the first major urban centers in the world and centuries later became the center of the then world economy with its factories mass-producing carpets and woolen garments for export to Mesopotamia and abroad.
Ur – also called Tal al-Muqayer ̵
The pontiff is expected to host an interfaith meeting in Ur on Saturday.
DiCar is the heart of the ancient Iraqi Sumerian civilization and includes the ruins of Ur, Eridu, Lagash, Gisu, Uma and Bad Tibira or the Wall of the Copper Workers.
In July 2016, UNESCO placed Ur on the World Heritage List, in addition to the swamps in southern Iraq, as well as other sites such as Eridu and Al-Varka.
During his visit to Iraq, Pope Francis will visit Ur after meeting with politicians, religious figures and archeological sites in the cities of Najaf, Erbil, Mosul and the capital Baghdad.
A life of luxury
Ur is one of the few cities built by the Sumerians who made it the capital of their country. When they settled in southern Iraq around 3500 BC, they surrounded it with walls and built markets, workshops and agricultural villages inside. This gave rise to the development of primary trade transport routes with other cities and countries of that time.
Excavations in the early 1900s in Ur show that its people lived a luxurious life as the city prospered in the cultivation and trade of wheat and barley. Excavations continue to this day, as there are still undiscovered treasures that will give a further idea of one of the first progressive cities in the world.
Archaeological excavations have been banned for decades due to conflicts and security problems. But Iraqi and US researchers have begun resuming excavations in the area several years after the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein.
“During the 2007 excavation season in the ancient city of Ur, we found about 100 artifacts from slabs that included important ancient texts,” Mustafa al-Husseini, a Nasiriyah-based archaeologist, told Al Jazeera.
“When we studied the texts, helping the American University at Stony Brook, it was discovered that these tablets were a miniature library. I found about 45 of them, “he said.
The Sumerians developed irrigation systems and grain cultivation, and invented cuneiform, used in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia. They also developed an algorithm on which timekeeping is still based today.
Sumerian society recognizes the leading role of the mother in the family and women evoke a high level of respect. Another cultural heritage of Sumerian civilization is poetry and ceramics.
The oldest pyramid
British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, who excavated in Ur in 1922, has discovered a royal tomb that coincides with the pharaohs in the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
The Sumerians were interested in building temples of mud and asphalt. An ancient ziggurat or terraced compound still stands in Ur and is considered one of the oldest pyramids of Mesopotamian civilization.
The complex next to the Zikura is believed to date from around 1900 BC and was once the home of the prophet Ibrahim, known as Abraham by Christians and Jews.
Amer Abdulrazak, head of the Nasiriyah Civilization Museum, explained why Ur is considered so important to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
“Ur is the birthplace of the prophet Ibrahim and this is mentioned in the Torah and the Gospels and for this reason all religions consider him their spiritual father.
“Therefore, visiting the country of his birth is considered one of the most important religious rituals of Christian worship,” he told Al Jazeera.
Studies conducted by al-Hamdani and American archaeologists show that there are 15,000 archeological sites in Iraq.
“There are about 1,200 archeological sites in Nasiriyah alone, which is equivalent to all the antiquities of France and Italy combined,” he said.
Pope Francis’ historic visit aims to boost the morale of the besieged Christian minority in Iraq, which has been declining in recent years amid wars and persecution, and to promote religious coexistence between Muslims, Christians and other minorities.
“Politicians must promote the spirit of fraternal solidarity,” the pontiff said on Friday.
“There is corruption, abuse of power, that’s not the way. At the same time, you need to think about justice, transparency, strengthening certain values, this is how trust can grow so that everyone, especially young people, can have hope for the future. “