Al-Rahbawi Castle

Concerns mount over Najaf Abbasid-era landmark facing threat of collapse

NAJAF — Historians and activists are sounding the alarm over the potential collapse of Al-Rahbawi Castle, also known as Zubaida’s Palace, citing significant erosion and a lack of maintenance as primary concerns. The castle, an Abbasid-era landmark located 35 kilometers from the center of Najaf, is on the verge of disrepair.

Zubaida, the wife of Harun al-Rashid, who ruled as the fifth Abbasid Caliph from 786 to 809, is noted for her efforts to refurbish the pilgrimage route that passes through this historic site. Her work contributed to what many consider the Islamic Golden Age, during which the Abbasid Caliphate, the third caliphate to succeed the Prophet Muhammad, extended its influence from 750 to 1258.

In a more recent renovation in 1936, Sayyid Mahmoud Al-Rahbawi utilized the area’s renowned water springs to transform the palace into a popular destination for both tourists and local religious scholars in Najaf.

The provincial tourism and antiquities committee has taken note of the deteriorating condition of the castle and plans to send a specialized team to assess its structural integrity.

Historian Abdul Zahra Turki Al-Fatlawi provided detailed insights into the site’s dimensions and architectural features, noting that it measures approximately 110 meters in length and 80 meters in width, complete with stone walls, a vaulted ceiling, semi-circular towers at the main entrance, and a residence for Sayyid Mahmoud Al-Rahbawi Al-Mousawi.

Al-Fatlawi also highlighted the historical significance of the surrounding area, known for its numerous water springs such as Ain Al-Rahba, Ain Bijay, Ain Khariba, and Ain Yazi. “Sayyid Mahmoud uncovered the sand-buried Ain Al-Rahba spring and used its water to restore the nearby old palace, which he then made his residence,” he explained.

The site also served as a strategic base for the Lakhmids and a key station on the pre-Islamic route connecting to the Arabian Peninsula. During the Abbasid period, it played a pivotal role in the pilgrimage route, with Zubaida herself renovating the path and revitalizing its water springs.

Historian Adnan Al-Barshawi emphasized the castle’s mention by renowned Islamic scholars such as Yaqut Al-Hamawi and Jaafar Mahbuba in his book “The Past and Present of Najaf.” The site also houses the shrine of Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan, a significant tomb that Sayyid Mahmoud Al-Rahbawi uncovered and rebuilt.

Hassan Ahmed, a local history enthusiast, stressed the urgent need for government intervention to prevent the castle’s collapse, pointing to its poor condition due to age and ongoing erosion.

Siham Al-Muhanna, head of the Najaf Tourism and Antiquities Committee, affirmed the growing concerns about the structure’s stability. “The issue will be addressed with a site visit by experts and specialists,” Al-Muhanna stated, adding that efforts are in place to preserve Iraq’s heritage, particularly through the initiative “Our Heritage, Our Legacy,” which aims to develop and protect these historical sites.