Empires have risen and fallen from Kurdistan’s Dween Citadel, castle of emirs
The site of the historic Dween Citadel, some 40 kilometers to the north of Erbil, was likely chosen because of the topography of Dween-Kore mountain chain, part of the rocky Pirmarm heights. Built on a hard mound of earth, the citadel is 1,475 meters above sea level.
Gardens surround the citadel, which was once a military site for the emirates and dynasties that called Kurdistan home, including the ancestors of the great Kurdish Islamic leader, Saladin Ayubi, Mir Shadi Marwan, in the 10th Century. The word Mir is the Kurdish word for ‘Emir,’ ‘king,’ ‘prince,’ or simply, ‘leader.’
Nearby is an ancient graveyard believed to be the burial place of some of Saladin’s relatives. Other graves display carvings and drawings of blades, arrows, and the sun, an indication battles took place around the citadel and many warriors lost their lives in its defense.
The valley and surrounding plains near Shaqlawa in Erbil province provide breathtaking natural beauty, especially in the spring.
However, the castle is not the only man made structure in ruins. Underneath are the remains of foundations with their walls still visible, possibly remnants of an old village.
Physical Structure of the Citadel
The citadel has a rectangular shape and once held many rooms and guard towers at each angle. Although the walls are in disrepair, the foundation can be easily seen. There was once a mosque, ward, stable, and store rooms. There is also a well, and historians hypothesize that the residents of the castle once used horses and mules to bring water from the nearby springs.
Builders made good use of the space available on the high cliff. The east side of the citadel is about 13 meters long while the west side is about 50 meters long. The northern side is 25 meters long and the southern is 30 meters. The walls are about 70 cm wide. Each side has round guard towers with walls 120 m wide, allowing guards to move easily around the castle. Each watchtower has four holes through which the guards could observe the wide open space behind the walls.
The citadel itself is believed to have consisted of one floor and the preserved parts of the structure and its towers, in particular, are those that were once renovated by the rulers of the Soran Emirate.
Ambiguity of the Name “Dween”
The word Dween is believed to have derived from the Kurdish words “Dew or Dewe”, a gate that connects borders, but other sources claim the word means capital.
A third interpretation links the castle to the ancient city of Dween, or Dvin, in modern-day Armenia. That school of thought says the name Dween was given to the citadel because the dynasty of Saladin Rawandi-Ayubi lived there before relocating to Kurdistan.
Sources debate the citadel’s age, with some dating it back to the time of Assyrian expansion (c. 1392–c. 1383). However, it is believed to be at least 10 centuries old.
The citadel was renovated by the Soran Emirate’s Mir Isa (1250-1280) in the 13th Century and was used both as a capital and fortress to monitor military and commercial movement. The Soran Emirate controlled the citadel until 1730 when they withdrew following constant clashes with the Baban Emirate over territory and alliances.
The Soran capital then moved to Harir and later Rwandz, and the citadel was taken over by the Ottomans and eventually pro-Ottoman local chiefs in the late 18th century.
Excavation and Further Research
Excavation of the site and additional research has been undertaken by Saladin University in the Kurdistan Region along with the Hungarian Catholic University. Researchers have uncovered tools, coins, and ammunition in addition to pottery dating back to the 18th and 19th Centuries and even the Era of the Abbasid (750-1258 AD).