Erbil Fossils And Stones Museum Offers Sparkling Attraction For Visitors
In one of the twisted and narrow alleys inside Erbil's ancient Citadel, a sign at the entrance of a renovated old house welcomes passers-by to the "Stones and Gems Museum."
Opened two years ago, at first in the town of Shaqlawa, before moving in early 2016 to its current location inside the Citadel, the two-storey building houses an extensive collection of stones.
The collection includes rare and exotic stones well as fossils -- all part of a private collection of Iraqi geologist Sarbast Majeed Omar.
"Being a native of the mountainous town of Shaqlawa, stones have been always part of our lives and even as children we used to play with stones. Collecting stones and precious stones has been my hobby since I was a young man and by studying geology at the College of Sciences, Mosul University, I combined hobby with science. I have been collecting stones for more than 35 years. I buy stones and get stones from people too. Stones are invaluable. I've never thought of how much money I spent on them. Whenever I get money, I spend it on stones,'' he said.
Omar has dedicated most of his life gathering stones from different countries, with his collection spanning items from Latin America, Russia and Asia.
The museum occupies an old two-storey house of the Regional Government of Kurdistan, which Omar renovated and refurbished.
Omar said among his rare collection are Trilobites, a marine arthropod that is extinct.
"We have a special pavilion for fossils, which exhibits fossils from Kurdistan and other parts of the world. For example, there are Trilobites dating back to some 600 million years, trees fossils and animal's teeth dating to different periods of history starting from the Cambrian Period to the Ice Age,'' he said.
And the sparkle and shine of the stones are attracting many visitors to the museum.
''In fact I had imagined that the exhibits here would be quite basic and that what they contained would not really be worth seeing, but in fact, I found two floors containing a variety of precious stones. Moreover, the way the stones are exhibited is very professional. They are not randomly cut, but they were cut in a highly professional and aesthetic way,'' said Egyptian tourist Yassir Ali.
"The museum is quite interesting. There is a lot of a variety of stones and even shells from the sea. We know that we are far away from the sea, so, we are quite surprised and impressed,'' added Italian visitor Valario.
The museum also has a gift shop, where visitors can purchase souvenirs.
Despite the steady flow of visitors who pay an entrance fee of 1500 Iraqi dinars, less than 2 U.S dollars, Omar says the money he makes is barely enough to cover the staff salaries and museum maintenance.
But despite the running costs, he is keen to keep the museum's doors open to all who visit Erbil.