Koya Qishla: The castle that is Koya’s identity

“We are known by Qishla, it is our identity.”
The garden of Koya Qishla. (Photo: KRG)
The garden of Koya Qishla. (Photo: KRG)

Koya is considered the mother city of Kurdistan when it comes to archaeology. Its castle, locally called Qishla, is the most attractive site among Koya’s numerous historical and archaeological sites.

This small city contains 80 archaeological sites. Experts believe that there are many more waiting to be discovered.

“There is an excavation team of local and international experts to dig the site of Satu Qala, which dates back to the sixth millennium BC,” said Rizgar Ahmed, a local archaeologist. “I am sure the team will find many more sites, more valuable than what we already have.”

Walls of Koya Qishla. (Photo: KRG)
Walls of Koya Qishla. (Photo: KRG)

But all eyes are on the Qishla. Views differ about when exactly it was built. Some believe it was constructed by the Ottoman Empire between 1869 and 1872. The purpose was to house troops and to provide a strategic vantage point to monitor the surrounding area.

Local archaeologists, however, have a very different view.

“According to our data, the Qishla is more than 2,000 years old, dating back to the BC era,” said Ahmed. “The Ottomans might have renovated it, but they did not build it.”

The castle is well-known for its architecture. Once used for military activities, its enormous courtyard is a garden today. Enclosing the courtyard are fortified walls with round bastions. Along the walls that demarcate the perimeter of Qishla Koya are wide wall walks, where underneath, visitors can find the buttery, barracks, and stables.

The dominant structure, however, is the two-story main building where the front gate is located. Two symmetrical sets of stairs lead to the upper floor of the building.

Locals are proud of the castle and view it as an integral part of their city’s identity.

“Our Qishla has gained cultural standing,” said Bapeer Mohammed, an old man from Koya. “We are known by Qishla, it is our identity.”

Exterior of Koya Civilization Museum. (Photo: KRG)
Exterior of Koya Civilization Museum. (Photo: KRG)

The main building houses the Koya Civilization Museum. The museum was founded in 2003. Items on display include tablets with astounding samples of cuneiform script from 2000 BC. There is also pottery dating back to 6000 BC, ancient jars, coins, jewels, and a wealth of documents from the Ottoman period.

Although it is a valuable historical and archaeological site, Qishla attracts few tourists from Kurdistan and the world.

“We need to make the Qishla a touristic place,” said Ahmed. “The government can work on it and can turn it into a very attractive place not only in Kurdistan but in the whole world.”

Local tourists do visit the Qishla, but not so many. The government has been paying attention to the castle and provided guards.

“This castle is unique,” said Awat Rasool, a local tourist. “Koya has other archaeological sites, but Qishla is amazing because it is still in good shape, and one can feel that there was once a vibrant life in it.”