Tigris River

Tigris River

The Armenian highlands of Asia Minor and Transcaucasia, its Taurus range, among the slopes of the southern end of which Lake Hazar is located, form a single mountain chain with the Lesser Caucasus. One of the ancient names of the Caspian Sea is also Khazar. That is, in the geographical system of concepts, the Tigris River belongs to the Black Sea-Caspian Basin, although it has no surface connections with either the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea. At the end of the Neogene (about 25 million years ago), the Armenian Highland experienced several tectonic cataclysms: its mountains split, lava poured out, cracks and depressions were formed and filled with water. One of such hollows is the Hazar Lake. And so, the age of the Tigris River, flowing out of Lake Hazar, is also about 25 million years old. From ancient times, the Tigris was the main means of transportation in the desert region.


The Tigris River and the Euphrates River are often referred to as “twin brothers”. Both rivers are of great importance for all mankind: between them was located the Middle Ages, or Mesopotamia in Greek, one of the cradles of world civilization.

From various ancient languages of Mesopotamia the name of the river “Tigris” is translated as “fast river”, “arrow” or, poetically, “water as fast as a shooting arrow”. In the upper reaches, when, descending from a height of about 1245 meters, it passes through gorges, then through the Desiree Plateau, it is indeed a very fast river. But inherent in the name is the comparison of the Tigris with the Euphrates, the Tigris is much fuller and faster than its “brother”, even at their confluence. This is due to the fact that the Tigris has rather large tributaries, which the Euphrates does not have.

Historical Mesopotamia existed from the emergence of pictographic writing (3500-2700 BC) until 539 BC, when Babylon was conquered by the Persian kingdom of Achaemenids. The ancient Greeks called Sumer the whole Lower Mesopotamia, one of its parts, and the other was called Akkad. By the middle of I millennium BC Sumer they more often began to call Babylonia, according to its capital (Babylon was located on the Euphrates), and Upper Mesopotamia – Assyria. The history of Mesopotamia is the stories of over 20 different states and city-states. Each of them is filled with such accomplishments, which are still enjoyed by all mankind today. In Mesopotamia the wheel and potter’s wheel were invented, wedge-shaped writing appeared, the world’s first artistic literary work – “The Epic of Gilgamesh” – was created in the XXII century B.C. In ancient Sumer the first calendar was made according to astronomical observations, formulas for calculating the area of some geometric figures were derived. And so on and so forth – the whole list of the cultural heritage of the “golden age” of Mesopotamia, which was also called the Crescent between the rivers, according to the outlines of the fertile valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates, would take more than one page. Many of the glorious cities of Sumer were located on the banks of the Tigris, the most famous being Nineveh, Seleucia (Tel-Umar), and Ctesiphon. The great cities of later times – Baghdad and Mosul – still live and develop today. And whatever city, in one way or another connected with the Tigris, you can take, everywhere breathes antiquity. The ruins of the city of Elazig in Turkey, 22 kilometers from Lake Hazar, from which the Tigris flows out, date back to about V century BC.

The Book of Genesis, the first book of the whole Bible, says: “Assur came out of this land and built Nineveh”. The date of the foundation of Nineveh is considered to be the 5th millennium B.C. At the end of the VIII-VII centuries B.C., during the reign of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal, whom the Greeks called Sardanapalus, the city stretched for 4 kilometers along the Tigris. Its main street, the Procession Road, was 26 meters wide. Ashshur-banipal (668-626 BC) created the famous Kuyunjik library, where more than 30 thousand tablets with cuneiform writing were collected, here was found the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, copied by Assyrians, and before that, probably more than once, by Sumerians. It is also believed that Nineveh was the first city in the world to adopt a unified urban plan.

Ecology and nature

People already thousands of years ago laid drainage canals and built dams on the Tigris without causing much damage to the natural biological balance of the river. Modern man has crossed this dangerous line.

Over the past few decades, the spontaneous construction of many new dams and canals, plus a series of long periods of drought, plus military actions in the adjacent territories have created many dust storms, forced animals to change their habitats, and thinned the green belt of the Tigris. And this is how it appears in its reference form. Date palms (mainly in the Shatt el-Arab valley), tamarisk and reed thickets, papyrus (plant). Wolves, foxes, jackals, hyenas, mongooses, reed cat are typical mammals. Of the pair-hoofed animals, the most common species is the gazelle. Until 1926, lions were also found along the Tigris coast. Among small animals the most numerous inhabitants of the shores are sandflies, shrews, bats, hedgehogs, river otters, hunted by poisonous snakes, including cobras. Nightingales, warblers, partridges, crows, owls, various species of eagles and hawks nest. The river fauna is represented mainly by different species of carp, catfish and spiny eel. From the Persian Gulf almost to Baghdad bull sharks penetrate into the Tigris.

To speak of fishing in the Tigris today is only in the past tense. Fish are still being caught, except that there are fewer and fewer fishermen, and the demand for fish from the Tigris is falling and falling. This is due to the fact that during all wars and local conflicts of recent times in Iraq, the bodies of killed people were dumped into the Tigris. Muslim leaders, both Shiites and Sunnis, have issued fatwas (prohibiting rulings) on this issue. There are fish farms in Iraq. Their products are mainly presented in fish markets, but most people are afraid to eat even this fish. Nevertheless, there are desperate fishing enthusiasts who are ready to cast a net from a boat or sit on the shore with a rod for hours to bring home a couple of fish, but usually large ones.

The disappearance of commercial fishing as such on the Tigris River, unfortunately, is not its greatest misfortune. The Tigris is constantly polluted. Uncontrolled discharge of sewage, industrial and household garbage without filtration and biochemical treatment takes place. Oilfield wastes also penetrate into the water. Even Baghdad lacks treatment facilities.

Wetlands absorb and retain rainwater, prevent soil washing away, and saturate the atmosphere with moisture. Between the Tigris and Euphrates in ancient times, according to experts’ calculations, such lands occupied about 15-20 thousand km2. By the 20th century, of course, they had already shrunk. At the beginning of our century, an organization called the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the charitable foundation AMAR stated that since 1970, 84 to 90% of the wetland-lake system between the Tigris and Euphrates had been destroyed. 60% of this loss was the fault of Saddam Hussein’s regime: since 1994, the marshes have been drained in the name of political-military objectives to speed up troop movements to the habitats of the so-called Marsh Arabs. Negotiations between Turkey, Iraq and Syria over the contentious issues of stabilizing the Tigris water regime in connection with the construction of dams have been going on for a long time, but with mixed success. In 2008, after a particularly severe drought, Iraq and Turkey agreed that in exchange for Iraqi oil supplies at preferential prices and assistance in the fight against Kurdish separatists, Turkey would increase the volume of water released into the Tigris through its dams to 450,500 km3 per year, but even here there are still unresolved differences, in particular over the Ilisu Dam, which is under construction in Turkey on the Tigris and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2013. Nevertheless, things have moved forward: 50% of the dried-up marshes have been restored by today, compared to 1970, and their ecosystems are gradually reviving.

General information

  • Countries through which the Tigris flows: Turkey, Syria, Iran.
  • Source: Hazar Lake, Turkey.
  • Mouth: Shatt al-Arab River, flowing into the Persian Gulf.
  • Feeding: in the upper reaches (in the mountainous part) snow and rain, on the rest of the course – rain, spring flood (maximum flow – in April).
  • The largest tributaries: left tributaries are the Big and Small Zab, Kerhe, Diyala and El-Uzaym, right tributary is the Et-Tartar.
  • The largest lake in the basin: Tartar.
  • The largest cities on the shores: Turkey – Diyarbakir; Iraq – Mosul, Baghdad, El-Kut, El-Amara.
  • The most important port: Basra (Iraq).
  • The most important airports: international airports in Baghdad and Mosul.
  • Length: about 1900 km.
  • Basin area: 375,000 km2.
  • Water discharge: in the Baghdad area from 337 m3/sec to 2779 m3/sec, average – 1014 m3/sec. The maximum for the river as a whole is 13,000 m3/sec.

Climate and weather

  • Subtropical, hot, arid.
  • Average temperature in January: +9°C.
  • Average temperature in July: +35°C.
  • Water temperature ranges from +8.5°C in January to +31.4°C in August.
  • Average annual precipitation: about 180 mm. In the upper reaches (in the mountains) – up to 700 mm.


  • Natural resources of the Tigris basin: oil deposits in the foothills of Zagros in Iraq (in the vicinity of Kirkuk and Khanaqin), in the regions of Basra and Mosul. Kirkuk oilfields produce more than half of all oil produced in Iraq. Salt (near Baghdad) and bitumen (near Mosul) reserves have also been explored.
  • Shipping. Vessels with draught up to 1.2 m can pass from Basra to Baghdad, further to Mosul ships can be used only in high water.
  • Breeding of carp species in fish farms.
  • Service sector: tourism (Iraqi cities and archaeological monuments).


  • Baghdad: Al-Qadriya shrine (XI c.), Al-Mustansiriya mosque (XIII c.), Zubaydah mausoleum (XIII c.), Abbasid palace (XII-XIII c.), Suq al-Ghazal minaret (XIII c.), Golden Mosque with Musa al-Kadim mausoleum (XVI c. ), the building of caravanserai Khan-Marjan (XIV c.), the gate Vastani (Dafariya, Bab al-Vastani, XIII c.) – the only surviving fragment of medieval fortifications of the city, the ruins of the gate Hapaba (1221 y. ), the Armenian Church of St. Mary or Meskenta (1640 – one of the oldest churches in Baghdad), the Catholic Church of St. Thomas (1866-1871), the residence of the Chaldean patriarch and the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows belonging to the same denomination (1838), the Armenian Catholic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1898) and the Syrian Catholic Church of St. Mary (1841).
  • Mosul: Great Mosque of Nur al-Din (XII c.), Madrasah Al-Izziyah (XII c.), ruins of Kara-Saray Palace (XIII c.), Tahir Church (VII c.), Chaldean Church of Shamun-Al-Safa (XIII c.) Catholic Church Map Petioni (X c.), Monastery of St. George (XVII c.), Monastery of Map Behnam (XII-XIII c.), Mosul University.
  • Lalesh (40 km from Mosul) – the only Yezidi temple complex in the world (X-XII cc.).
  • Ruins of the ancient cities of Silevkiya (Tel-Umar), 22 km from Baghdad; Ctesiphon.
  • Nineveh – archaeological reserve of the ancient capital of Assyria (candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List), near Mosul: recently reconstructed part of the fortress wall, small museum.

Important facts about the Tigris River

  • Origins: The origins of the Tigris River are in Turkey, where it is formed by the confluence of several mountain streams in the Eastern Tauren Mountains.
  • Flow: The Tigris River flows through Turkey and Iraq. It joins with the Euphrates River in southern Iraq to form a delta that flows into the Persian Gulf.
  • Importance to civilizations: The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are considered the “river of life” for Mesopotamia, as they provided water and fertility to the surrounding lands. The first known states and cities originated here.
  • Historical Finds: Many archaeological finds have been made along the banks of the Tigris River. For example, the famous Babylonian Ishtar Gate and the Babylonian Ziggurat (Tower of Babylon) were located near the river.
  • Modern significance: The Tigris River remains an important source of water for Iraq, providing water supply and irrigation. However, dams and regulation of water flow can affect the ecosystem and access to water in different regions.
  • Challenges: In recent decades, the ecological condition of the Tigris River has been threatened by declining water levels due to dams and other infrastructure, as well as pollution. In addition, political and economic factors also affect water management.

Fun facts

  • Back in the first century, the Tigris and Euphrates flowed into the Persian Gulf separately, and much further north than they do now. Between them and was located biblical Eden, says Professor of the American University of Missouri Juris Zarine (Zarinsh). These conclusions scientist made on the basis of numerous ancient sources, as well as surveys from the space satellite “LANDSAT”. At the end of the 5th millennium BC, the so-called Flandrian transgression occurred, which caused a sharp rise in the level of the world’s oceans. The area where the Persian Gulf is now located began to fill with water, the level of which reached the modern mark. Eden, which the Sumerians called Edin (“plain”), and all its settlements went under water, but, as this process was gradual, they had time to settle in the territory of North Africa and South-West Asia, bringing there their knowledge and culture. There are other hypotheses of the location of the hypothetical Eden. But Zarins theory has more and more supporters.
  • In astronomy, there’s a concept called “canceled constellations”. One of such constellations, included in the atlas of the Northern Hemisphere in 1612 by the Dutch theologian and astronomer Plancius, was called the Tigris River/Euphrates River. It was located south of the constellation of the Big Dipper and stretched southward, winding like a river between Lyra and Swan. It is also on the maps of 1642. Later it disappears from them, apparently most astronomers did not consider this group of stars as a constellation deserving a separate name.
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