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Nov 19, 2012

Medieval Mondays: Visiting Ukhaidher Castle, Iraq

Today, our sometimes guest blogger Sean McLachlan returns with an amazing story. He just got back from 17 days in Iraq. That's right, he actually visited Iraq as a tourist. Follow the link to read his fascinating series. Today he's talking to us about exploring an early medieval castle in the desert.

About 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Karbala, there's a mystery standing in the middle of the desert. It's called Ukhaidher ("small green place") Castle and is said to have been built in the 8th century, right at the beginning of the Abbasid dynasty. An oasis stands nearby, hence the name.

Beyond that, little is known about Ukhaidher Castle. Some believe it actually dates from before the Islamic era, to the time of a Christian Arab named Ukhaidher who was expelled from Arabia in 635 AD. Others say it was a Muslim hunting lodge, or a retirement palace for an aged prince.

Whether it has its origins in the pre-Islamic era or not, it was certainly used by the Abbasids and it certainly is impressive. Its walls stand 21 meters (69 ft.) high.
A very early mosque on the site created controversy when it was excavated. The miqrab, or niche that is supposed to face Mecca, appears to face Jerusalem instead. This isn't the only such mosque from the early days of Islam not to face Mecca. The Iraqi archaeologist who discovered this had his funding cancelled and never got to publish his findings. Unfortunately when I visited I didn't have a compass with me, so I can't say for sure where it points. I did get to climb the partially ruined minaret and take some shots from a good vantage point.
Like many archaeological sites, it was heavily restored during Saddam Hussein's rule, more with an eye for grandeur than historical accuracy. The castle was in good enough condition, however, that this particular reconstruction is better than most.
Readers into all things medieval might want to check out my post on exploring medieval Baghdad.

Thanks for having me, A.J.! Besides blogging for Gadling, I run Civil War Horror, dedicated to dark fiction, the American Civil War, and the Wild West. Guest bloggers are always welcome. I'm the author of numerous books including A Fine Likeness, a historical novel set in Civil War Missouri, and The Night the Nazis Came to Dinner, a collection of dark speculative fiction. The electronic editions are both on sale at the moment. You can also check me out on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and my Amazon author's page.
 All photos copyright Sean McLachlan.


  1. Amazing, the structures that were built in antiquity. I keep following Sean's Iraq posts to see what else he reveals. These desert structures have a majesty, sitting alone in the desert. Interesting post.

  2. What an amazing place.
    And knew from the post title Sean was involved!