Italy has donated a reconstructed Assyrian statue to Iraq in what has been described as a “miracle of Italian cultural diplomacy”. Constructed in the ninth century BC, the 3.5-tall Bull of Nimrud was destroyed by Isis fighters in 2015, before Italian artisans made a copy of the monument using 3D-printing technology. The replica, which was previously displayed at the Colosseum in Rome and the Unesco headquarters in Paris, has now been permanently relocated outside the entrance to the Basrah Museum.
“Italy is at the forefront of safeguarding cultural heritage because it is the soul of a nation and embodies its history,” Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, said in a statement read out at an inauguration ceremony at the museum attended by Italian and Iraqi officials on Tuesday. “It will therefore continue to make every effort to advance international collaboration in the field of cultural heritage protection and to work for the enhancement of the heritage of humanity.”
Francesco Rutelli, the former culture minister whose Associazione Incontro di Civiltà had spearheaded the plans to make the replica, wrote on Facebook: “Here is a light, a precious Italian light”. He added that the donation was “a small miracle of Italian soft power, of our cultural diplomacy”.
The ancient city of Nimrud, near modern-day Mosul, was the magnificent capital of Ashurbanipal II (883–859 BC), the Assyrian king who constructed an enormous palace in the city decorated with bas reliefs and numerous “lamassu”, lion and winged-bull statues with bearded human heads. Isis stormed the archaeological site in 2015 and destroyed precious artefacts with bulldozers and explosives. The Bull of Nimrud, which stood at the site and is a symbol of the Assyrian civilisation, was among the destroyed monuments.
Following the attack, a team of restorers led by Nicola Salvioli studied photos and videos of the monument, allowing them to make a model in polystyrene. A 3D printer was then used to make a fibreglass copy that was covered with plastic substances mixed with stone dust to make it appear more authentic. The project was financed by the Associazione Incontro di Civiltà.
The bull was displayed at a 2016 exhibition at the Colosseum titled Rinascere dalle distruzioni. Ebla, Nimrud, Palmira alongside two other reconstructions: of a portion of a ceiling of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, and the archive room of the Ebla Palace. The following year, it was relocated to the Unesco headquarters in Paris, where it stood outside the entrance as “a symbol of the organisation’s commitment to share history and transmit the values it carries to future generations”, Unesco said.
The bull’s return to Iraq follows a high profile restitution to the country in June, when Italy handed a tablet engraved with cuneiform text and the insignia of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III, Ashurbanipal’s successor, to Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid during a state visit to Italy. The circumstances surrounding the tablet’s arrival in Italy remain unclear.