Pope's visit to put Iraqi ziggurat back on tourist map

The ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur in Iraq will be the stage for an inter-religious prayer service held by Pope Francis next week.

An event local archeologists hope will draw renewed attention to the place revered as the birthplace of Abraham.

Popular with Western visitors in the 1970s and 1980s, Ur is scarcely visited today after decades of war and political instability shattered Iraq's international tourism industry.

The global health crisis has also kept local tourists away.

The state board's Antiquities and Heritage archaeological director is Ali Kadhim Ghanim.

"We are counting on the Pope's visit, because it will increase the number of tourists in the city of Ur. Not only tourists, but we believe there'll also be more Christians making a pilgrimage."

Located about 200 miles south of the capital Baghdad, the site is made up of a pyramid-style ziggurat and a residential complex.

It was excavated about 100 years ago by Leonard Woolley, a Briton who recovered treasures rivalling those found in Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt.

But little work has since been done on one of the world's oldest cities - a place where urban dwelling, writing and central state power began.

The father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Abraham is described in the biblical book of Genesis as having lived in the city.

Now it's hoped that the Pope's visit will attract international attention to the site to fund restoration works on its palaces and temples.