The Arch of Ctesiphon, which lies to the south of Baghdad, is the world’s largest brick-built arch, and the last structure still standing from an ancient Persian imperial capital of the same name.
According to Agence Presse France, a large slab of the arch fell off last year as a result of damage caused by heavy rain. It is located in the town of Madain, also the site of the tomb of Salman Pak, one of Prophet Mohammed’s companions.
Both used to be among Iraq’s main tourist attractions before decades of unrest halted visitors to the country. The town, which lies alongside the River Tigris, was suspected of housing a biological weapons facility under Saddam Hussein.
Everis, a Czech company, has now been assigned with the task of restoring the arch. "We began our work here a short while ago, carrying out studies on the site," said Imad Abu Aqlam, the firm's Iraqi manager, adding that surveys are expected to be completed next month.
He said the restoration work was due to last about 10 months. The firm hopes the project will help the area to recover some of its lost glory. Construction of the Arch began in 540 AD during the Persian Sassanid dynasty's long wars with the Byzantine Empire.
It formed part of a palace complex started three centuries earlier and, stands at 37 metres (122 feet) tall and 48 metres (158 feet) long. Prior to the US-led invasion of 2003, the area had gardens, as well as a popular museum.
But now there is little foliage because the irrigation pipes were destroyed and the trees were cut down for firewood, while the museum was looted after Saddam's overthrow. In 2004, the Global Heritage Fund said that, as a result of disrepair, the arch was "in danger of collapse".
Late last year, a slab about two metres in length fell off. "Taq-i-Kisra was neglected for a long time, and we decided to rehabilitate it when the piece fell down at the end of last year because of the rains," said Madain's director of antiquities, Abdulhadi Hassan.
Officials hope a restoration of the arch will revive Madain as a tourist destination, but for now, the area is closed off to visitors, with prior approval required for anyone wanting to see it.
The arch itself is currently still surrounded by concertina wire and cement walls, separating it from the nearby orchards, and authorities have no firm timeline on when they hope to reopen it to the public.
"That depends on the progress of the work," Liwaa Smaisim, Iraq’s tourism and antiquities minister, told AFP. "We need good infrastructure here to reopen this place for all the people, and inshallah (God willing), that will be done as soon as possible."