I visited three of Slemani's parks. The closest to the city centre is the small one next to Suleymaniyeh University, almost opposite the huge Palace Hotel. This one was busy in the morning with tea drinkers, and had an "avenue of heads", stone busts of some important local historical figures.
The second one I found was east of the bazaar, small but new and well designed, with a large statue of a woman as its centrepiece.
Finally, I walked all the way out to Azadi park, expecting it to be similar to the large park in Erbil. I shall start with a quote from LP..."Azadi park is Sulaymaniyah's answer to Central park and Coney Island all rolled into one". now, I've never been to New York, but I have a feeling that New yorkers might not welcome the comparison. Azadi Park is huge, and there is a lot of potential here, but a lot of the park was unfinished and bare, and there were very few places to sit. Perhaps it is nicer in the sun...or perhaps it will be nicer once it is finished...but it does have the obligatory enormous Kurdish flag fluttering above an abstract monument to something or other.
In the middle of the bazaar district is Slemani's great mosque. Not really an architectural wonder, or even very old, this is nevertheless a sort of hub, especially on Fridays. I'm sure it is possible to go inside if you visit after prayers have finished...we didn't, however we did go inside the brand new Chinese shopping mall opposite, offering good views over the mosque from the upper floors. Possibly the only place in the world where you'll see Iraqi, Kurdish and Chinese flags decorating a doorway.
The "highlight" of any trip to Slemani ought to be this museum, housed in one of Saddam's old torture facilities known as Amna Suraka (Red Security). Since the Peshmerga (the Kurdish army) liberated the prison in the 1990s, not much has changed...the buildings are empty shells with bullet holes everywhere.
A soldier gives you a quick body search, then you are allowed in to wander around the ruins. Climb the steps inside the semi-ruined main building, and you'll see bleak empty corridors with even bleaker prison cells, some with red handprints painted on the walls. I've seen descriptions of artwork and sculptures on display in many of the cells, but I think that must have been a temporary exhibition...a shame, as a place with a terrible past such as this needs some sort of thought-provoking display, otherwise it is just a ruin.
After exploring the ruins, head down to the basement (if there are no other visitors, ask someone in charge for some electricity!). Here, at least something is on display, albeit not really to do with the prison itself. Two or three red lighbulbs give you just enough light to watch your step, while on the walls, horrific photos of the aftermath of the Halabja chemical attacks of 1988, made all the more shocking by the red colouring. Dead children lie open-mouthed, bodies filling the streets, survivors looking on in horror. Not a pleasant experience, but then I wasn't expecting it to be...but it does need some sort of explanation, as had I not already visited Halabja and seen the same photos there, I wouldn't have known the story behind them.
The next attraction is the Hall of Mirrors. There was no electricity the first time I visited, so I made a return trip a few days later just to see this...and it would be moving if someone had bothered to say what it represented. I found out later that the broken pieces of mirror on the walls represent the 182,000 victims of the Anfal campaign (which included the attacks on Halabja), while the 5000 lights were for the Kurdish villages wiped off the map. Without the explanation, it doesn't have the same power. Oddly for a museum all about torture and persecution, the hall of mirrors leads to a room showing the inside of a typical Kurdish home. interesting, but what is it doing here?
My own view of this place was that it was a huge wasted opportunity. This could be a fantastically shocking museum of the horrors of torture, with exhibits leaving a huge impression on visitors. Where were the explanations of what the building used to be? Who were the prisoners, what happened to them and why? What is the significance of the broken mirrors and the twinkling lights? The staff, friendly enough, seemed more interested in tending to the flower beds than showing visitors around. If I hadn't have previously read up about the Anfal campaign and what went on in the Kurdish areas during the reign of Saddam, I would have left the museum none the wiser.
Take any street off Mawlawi or Kawa streets and you'll end up in the bazaar. It is huge, and getting lost is part of the fun. The most interesting section is probably the maze of covered alleyways between the two main roads. Again, like those in Dohuk and Erbil, the bazaar is built on a bit of a slope, so don't be afraid to go up or down any stairs you may come across...they just lead to more levels full of shops. However, unlike Dohuk's bazaar which stayed open into the evening, action in Slemani is pretty much over by sunset.
Things to look out for include the great mosque (see tip below), a Chinese shopping mall, stalls selling local honeycomb, the fattest mannequin you've ever seen, and the animal section under a bridge. I'd met up with an Australian girl who was staying with a local host. She spotted some rabbits for sale, so we went down the steps to investigate, attracting quite a lot of friendly attention. I don't suppose they get that many foreigners asking how much rabbits cost! Anyway, in case you are interested, and the Australian girl seemed alarmingly to be considering buying one as a giftf or her host, a plain bog-standard common rabbit went for 12,000 dinars, but a super-duper top-of-the-range white rabbit would have set her back 18,000. Two caged squirrels were doing somersaults in an attempt to grab our attention, but we didn't have the 40,000 to buy them unfortunately. My Australian friend was sure the rabbits and squirrels were pets, but as many of the nearby stalls sold cooking pots, I'm not quite as optimistic.
Sulaymania is a city in the midst of a tumultuous rebirth, so was pleased to see that it had a Museum, full of local treasures. This area of the world is the longest continually inhabited region on the planet. The famous town of Arbil is close by which was founded around the 6th millennium BC.
Sualymainia is only 200 years old and a baby by comparison. I think that these local museums will be well worth a revisit as this nation finds it's feet!
- Museum Visits
Sulaymania is surrounded by high mountains. The mountain to the east, khabatorash, is a very popular picnic site. On weekend, many kurdish families drive with their cars to the mountain to eat kebab and enjoy the wonderfull view on city.
Catching up local life
That is for sure one of the favorite activity of the VTers all over the world.
Street scenes shooted at close range is always very impressive.
- Business Travel
Wandering in the street and the souk
Like any oriental town, Sulu has a local souk where you can buy moreless everything you need.
No more than 50 m separate the vegetables from the Dcam !!!!
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