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The historic City Centre

of najif: Review of
Current Situation
Presented by :
Phd student session-15-
Ihsan sabah hadi
1.1 Introduction
Our work to date with regard to the historic City Centre has focussed
on collecting existing data and gaining a broad understanding of
structure and activities.
We will be undertaking a detailed walk-over appraisal of the city
centre identifying land and building use, building condition, age,
construction, and access and movement issues. This will also
consider the relationship between the holy shrine and the City Centre
and begin to identify opportunities for enhancement of the setting of
this important religious building.
At this stage therefore, this paper provides an initial overview of the
City Centre and emerging key issues.

1.2 General Layout
The city centre sits on a dome of gently rising ground covering an
area of about 50 hectares. The area is surrounded by a circular road
(Fence Street) built around 1938. At the centre of the old City the
Imam Ali Shrine continues to be the religious and visual centrepiece
of the city.
Immediately to west of the City centre is the steep escarpment
leading to fertile agricultural land and the Sea of Najaf. To the east
and south the land slopes down to the more recently developed parts
of the town which unlike the city centre have been developed on a
grid pattern.
To the north is Wadi Salam, the largest cemetery in the world which
attracts many thousands of visitors and burials each year and has a
closely linked working relationship with the City Centre and Shrine.
The City has developed over many centuries outwards from the Tomb
of Imam Ali in a concentric manner, contained within a series of six
City walls. This pattern is still evident. Figure 7.1 below, shows
development within the context of the last 3 walls.

Historical Development
The chronological development of the city walls was as follows:
__ 1st wall built by Mohammed Ben Zaid Al Da’y around the Holy Shrine;
__ 2nd wall by Abu Al Haja Abdullah Ben Hamadan;
__ 3rd wall built in 982 AD;
__ 4th wall built in 1010AD giving Najaf its circular shape – this is reported
to have been 199m from the Holy Shrine on all sides along the line of
the Al Safareen Souk;
__ 5th wall built 75m from the 4th wall in 1629AD. At this time the
circumference is reported to have been 1721m;
__ 6th wall was constructed in 1811AD with had four gates and towers
about 85m from 5th wall;
__ 6th wall is reported to have collapsed at a time when the city was
under pressure to expand. It was at this time that the circular road
known as fence street (now known as the by-pass?) was constructed.
Figure 1.1 below illustrates City Growth during the period of the 4th, 5th
and 6th city Walls.

Figure 1.1 City Growth
Key stages in the development of the city have included:
__ A first wave of development in about the 8th century AD in what is no
the Al Mishraq district to the north of the Holy Shrine;
__ Subsequently development continued in the west and south;
__ A further significant phase of building in the 10th century AD (4th
Hegira) when the population rose dramatically to around 6,000;
__ In the 15th century AD epidemics and disease led to decline in
population and reports says “city buildings began to collapse and
decreased to 300 houses” with population decrease to about 1500;
__ In 1940AD fence around cemetery was built to separate it from the
__ In the 1950s, a series of new roads were cut through the historic town
radiating out from the centre to divide the city roughly into the four city
neighbourhoods of Al Mashrag (NE), Al Omara (NW), Al Howaish
(SW) and Al Borac (SE);
__ During the 1950s modern outward facing buildings began to replace
the inward looking traditional courtyard dwellings.

Within the neighbourhoods however, the historic tightly packed
organic grain of the city is still evident, apart from the western side
where a large area has been cleared and modern concrete hotel
buildings constructed around a central space, beneath which is car
Elsewhere, although a significant number of modern buildings have,
and continue to be built, sometimes on single plots and sometimes
through land assembly bringing a number of adjoining plots together.
Though many of the historic buildings are in a poor state of repair and
the public realm is in a poor condition there still appears to be
sufficient historic fabric remaining to form the basis of the
comprehensive conservation strategy for large parts of the old city.
This will need to be balanced with aspirations to enhance the setting
of the holy shrine which may involve demolition of historic buildings.
Most of the older buildings are one or than two storeys in height,
though many have basements sometimes going two to three levels
beneath ground. Increasing land values mean that there appears to
be an increasing number of traditional landowners within the city
centre to sell land for development, often for hotel use.

1.3 Land & Building Use
Much of the old City is in residential use. Commercial, mostly retail
uses are located in Souq al Kabeer to the east of the holy shrine, in Al
Howaish and the main streets to the north and south of the holy
shrine. To the west of the holy shrine, a series of modern concrete
hotel blocks have been constructed to accommodate pilgrims and
Our detailed appraisal will identify existing use, on a building by
building basis to give us a full understanding of how the city currently
works and key issues that need addressing.
This may include:
__ Consolidating residential uses within the City centre,
__ Rationalising the provision of retail and commercial activities,
__ Relocating noisy, dirty or unsightly uses away from the Holy Shrine,
__ Providing adequate space for growth and expansion of business,
tourism and leisure activity.
Map 1.2 below illustrates the general arrangement of land
uses and key features within the City centre at the present time.

1.4 Pilgrims
Pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali is a key driver of the town’s
economy. Along with Karbala and Kufa, Najaf is one of the most
important religious sites in Iraq and the wider Muslim world.
Although we do not yet have data on the exact number of pilgrims
who visit Najaf each year, only Makkah and Madinah attract more
Thus the way in which pilgrims arrive, where and how they are
accommodated and what they do while they are in Najaf are key
issues that very much inform the future shape of activities within the
The vast number of pilgrims put much pressure on the urban fabric
which at the moment fails to deal well with the influx of visitors.
Issues which this study will address include:
__ Providing adequate access and accommodating parking for public or
private vehicles is a major issue,
__ Creating a clear point of arrival for pilgrims,
__ Routes for moving pilgrims to and through the City Centre and the
Holy Shrine,
__ Providing adequate accommodation for pilgrims,
__ Providing opportunities for associated tourism and leisure activities.

1.5 The Cemetery
The cemetery is reported to be the largest Muslim cemetery in the
world and possibly the largest cemetery of any type. It is located
immediately to the north of the existing city and covers an area in
excess of 10 sq km. It is densely packed with tombs varying in size
from individual burials to large family mausoleums in use for many
generations accommodating many burials above and below ground.
Although the cemetery is now located entirely to the north of the City
Centre, burials originally took place to the east of the shrine (where
Souk Al Kabeer is now) but ceased when the city expanded in this
direction with all burials moving to north.
Funeral ceremonies approach the cemetery from the south along Al
Tosi Street from Imam Ali Shrine. Because of the large area covered
by the cemetery, the majority of funerals need to use motorised
transport to move the body from the City Centre to its final resting
Access to the cemetery is via a network of surfaced and unsurfaced
tracks running in an informal grid layout. Access points and parking
points are located around the periphery of the cemetery.
The cemetery is owned by Najaf Baladiya with plots being sold
through a network of agents who can also arrange funerals.
Plans are underway to develop a new cemetery area to the north of
the existing cemetery.

Key issues in relation the cemetery which this study will need to
address include:
__ Access and parking including improving existing tracks within the
__ Ceremonial routes between the holy shrine and cemetery for burials,
__ Expansion space,
__ Identifying and enhancing key memorials and tombs of importance
with the possibility of introducing a formal route for visitors to the most
important sites,
__ Facilities for visitors and mourners on the periphery of the cemetery.

1.6 Pilgrimage and Tourism
Tourism in Najaf centres on visits to the Holy Shrine and Cemetery, or
visits to historical and heritage buildings.
According to the Summit for Rebuilding An Najaf City13 the visitor
statistics are: 12,000 daily visitors to the city, 100,000 visitors on a
Thursday and Friday, 1-2 million visitors on a special occasion, 3,000
vehicles entering the city daily, and as many as 120,000 vehicles
entering the city on a special occasion.
Of these visitors, the majority are domestic (83%), with 17% from
outside Iraq. 40% stay in hotels, 25% in houses, 34% stay in open
spaces and squares, and 1% stay with relatives.
The focus for the pilgrims is the Holy Shrine, and there is a
concentration of pilgrims here, and in the nearby streets of Al Tosi
Street which links the cemetery to “Fence Street”. The shrine and the
surrounding areas are constantly overcrowded, and although there
was a rise in hotel building and the provision of other services for
tourists in 1998, the city still suffers from a lack of visitor services and
facilities, especially WCs, hotels, open spaces, parks and restaurants.
8 Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, November 2004

1.7 Housing
Most of the data on housing will come from the forthcoming survey work.
However, from the data we have managed to collect so far, we know that:
The residential areas of Najaf have developed in an organic way over
time, as with other Islamic Arabic cities. Densities are high, reaching
675 people per hectare, with only narrow alleyways and paths
separating houses.
Housing conditions are generally poor, with many decaying from age.
The number of houses seems to have decreased over time, with 4250
dwellings in 1973 (38 hectares) reduced to 3121 in 1985, and 2158 in
1997 on 24 hectares.
Housing densities vary according to the area and housing type in
Najaf. The older areas have higher densities (403 people/hectare, or
54 dwellings per hectare) for 83% of the population. Densities range
from less than 150 people per hectare (2.1% of the population) to
between 520-1700 people per hectare (18% of the population).
In terms of housing form14 there are 386 apartment blocks in Najaf
which make up just 0.7% of the total housing. This indicates a
preference for houses over apartments.
The old city and Al Ansar cover 271 hectares, accommodating 17,000
households. More than a third of the population of the city of Najaf live
in unsuitable accommodation. An issue for the master plan is that
planning will be needed to improve living conditions and reduce
overcrowding in these neighbourhoods. In particular the difficulties of
emergency access and the rapid spread of disease will need to be
overcome. 14 Source: Central office of statistics using census 1997

1.8 Craft industries
Craft industries in the central trading zones produce and sell goods in the
same location, taking advantage of passing trade (Al Souk Al Kabeer).
Merchandise in these areas are goods such as shoes, clothes, weaving,
sweets, jewellery and electrical repairs.
15 Abdul Sahib Nahi Rasheed Al Baghdadi doctorate theses submitted to the
centre of urban and
regional planning – University of Baghdad 1999

1.9 Commercial land use
The previous section explained the industrial land use pattern in Najaf
e.g. factories and workshops producing goods. This section is specifically
about areas of the City in which good are traded. However, some of
these activities take place in the same location.
Commercial uses occupied 153 hectares in Najaf in 1997, a large
increase on the 6 hectares it occupied in 1973. This increase comes from
the rising consumerism of the population. There are 7468 retail units in
the city, mainly in the old city souk which is an area of 11.5 hectares.
Trading in the city centre consists of
__ Central trading zone: This is an area where trading takes place but
also includes some industrial buildings and services. This covers the
Al Souk, Al Kabear, Zain Al Abedeen and Al Sadic streets and the
areas around the Holy Shrine.
__ In the shadow of the central trading zone there are routes through old
residential streets to include markets in Al Huwaish, Al Brag, Al
Mishrag and streets of Al Rasool, Al Tosi, Al Khornak and Al Sadeer
in addition to branches and alleys which connect directly with streets
of the central trading zone (Al Sadic, Zain Al Abedeen)
__ Wholesale trading takes place in the narrow space between Al Sadic
and Al souk Al Kabeer.
Other trading zones include Al Hadeca and Hannon and Al Jodaida.
There are also local markets distributed in residential neighbourhoods –
around 16 of these of approximately 4000 sq m.

Trading also takes place on the Najaf-Kufa axis, Najaf – Diwania axis and
Najaf – Karbula axis.
Twelve streets within Najaf have changed from residential to trading,
making a total area of 35ha in various neighbourhoods.
A suggested issue for the master plan will be that trading areas must be
zoned, because if the trend towards setting up shops in residential areas
is allowed to continue, the residential areas suffer from e.g. pollution and
congestion and may decrease property values16.

1.10 Religious land/buildings
The Holy Shrine is considered to be one of the most important in the
Islamic world. It covers an area of 1.5 hectares, which make up 2% of the
city centre
The Holy Shrine is surrounded by four walls, with fifteen awnings/cloisters
on its northern and eastern sides, and 14 awnings/cloisters and 5 gates
on its western and southern sides.
The Wadi Al Salaam Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the world,
covering 917 hectares, 12% of the total area of the city of Najaf. The
cemetery is clearly of great importance in the master planning of Najaf,
and there is pressure for its expansion to the east side. As well as its
religious importance it is also economically significant as the large flows
of pilgrims who come to bury their dead need to be catered for, and the
cemetery supported around 4000 jobs in 1985, and possibly more today.
With improvements in the road network, there is increased demand for
burials. The current density of burials is two bodies per square metre.
16 Abdul Sahib Naji Rasheed Al Baghdadi doctorate thesis submitted to the
Centre of Urban and
Regional Planning, University of Baghdad 1999.

1.11 Urban Land-Use
Most of the land use information will come from the survey work e.g.
land ownership, land / building use and building heights.
However, the initial land use map (Appendix C – Map 3.1) shows the
broad land use patterns across the urban area.
The Old City is dominated by the religious uses in the central squares,
with the Imam Ali shrine at the heart. The surrounding central area is
characterised by a mix of commercial activity, hotels and housing.
The Wadi Al Salaam cemetery, one of the largest in the world, is
spread over a swathe of land to the North and North West of the Old
South West of the Old City is the Bahr an Najaf, or Najaf Sea.
The large urban area extending North and East from the Old City
consists of large residential zones, and the services needed to
support the population – health services, shops, restaurants and
hotels, and open spaces. There are three main industrial quarters to
the North and North east of the city, towards Kufa.

1.12 Environment
The city of Najaf is located on the boundary between fertile irrigated
alluvial plains and the Al Bahar salt “sea”, 10km west of the
Euphrates. The city sits on a ridge above the alluvial plain, averaging
between 20 and 60m above sea level.

1.13 Transport and Movement
The data collected so far provides a description of the character and
layout of the road network, the current problems on it, and the causes
of these problems.
The key features of the road network are:
1. There are 2 main roads. These are the Najaf – Kufa road and the
Kerbala – Najaf - Abu Sakheer road. They form the main axes for
vehicle movement from Najaf to the east, the north and the south.
A smaller, less busy, road runs from Najaf to the east, towards
Rafha and Saudi Arabia.
2. In the city centre and the older areas, the majority of roads are
narrow alleys, many of which are unsuitable for vehicle traffic. In
the rest of the city, the road network consists mainly of
rectangular grids with occasional diagonal roads. In many areas,
the layouts of local access roads are unplanned and do not
conform to any pattern.


- Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004, Ministry of Planning and Development
Cooperation, November 2004

- Abdul Sahib Nahi Rasheed Al Baghdadi doctorate theses submitted to the
centre of urban and
regional planning – University of Baghdad 1999

- Central office of statistics using census 1997