Heritage and Ecotourism for Sustainable Development in Iraqi Kurdistan

About the project

The Kurdistan region of Iraq is especially rich in archaeological, historical and ecological sites that have enormous potential for heritage tourism and ecotourism. As yet, this potential has been significantly underdeveloped. While tourists from within Kurdistan and Iraq more widely frequently visit such natural sites as lakes, waterfalls, mountains and forests, there is much less tourist attention on the heritage sites of the region. These sites comprise caves, rock shelters, rock-cut tombs, archaeological mounds and settlements, as well as heritage buildings in cities such as Sulaimaniyah, the cultural capital of Kurdistan, where this project will be focused.

Furthermore, both ecological and heritage sites in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer from a lack of information for those who do visit these important places. Most heritage sites in the region have no on-site information at all, and it is therefore not surprising that very few people make the effort to visit them. There are also problems with access to some of the key sites, which lack suitable roads, visitor pathways, and any form of signage.

In this project, we propose to start the process of developing the cultural and natural assets of Sulaimaniyah province within the context of the UN International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. Through collaboration between the University of Reading Department of Archaeology and the Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage, Sulaimaniyah, including the Slemani Museum, we will draw on UK and Iraqi expertise across the heritage, creative, tourism and social enterprise sectors to develop economic opportunities for local stakeholders. Working together, we will co-develop and establish:

  1. A toolkit for heritage and ecotourism in the region

  2. Accessible digital resources for the heritage and ecotourism sector

  3. Networks of stakeholders centred on local communities who will take ownership of the project's outcomes for future sustainability.

Through in-depth engagement with local communities in Sulaimaniyah province, this project will establish a framework for the ongoing development of heritage and ecotourism in the region. On this basis, we aim significantly to enhance local, national and international engagement with the heritage and natural assets of the region while promoting new opportunities for local sustainable economic development.


We are encouraging sustainable economic opportunities through devising a toolkit for the heritage and ecotourism sectors, co-developed through a set of five workshops, all involving the full spectrum of local stakeholder communities.

Digital resources

We are developing a range of accessible educational and information resources, online digital media, in the form of museum displays, films, activity sheets, trail and site guides, which will all serve to illustrate and promote the extraordinary wealth of cultural and natural attractions of the region.

Case studies

Working with a small number of local businesses, we are exploring the development of heritage and ecotourism through a series of four test events. These events focus on archaeological sites investigated by our previous research, and will act as exemplars of how specific sites might be developed as core attractors for tourism engagement.