Top 10 Interesting Tigris River Facts

One of the most famous rivers in the world has played a crucial role in human history.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting Tigris River facts.

1. It’s the eastern river in an important historical region

One of the most important historical regions in the world is called Mesopotamia. It’s believed that this is the place where the first civilizations emerged during the so-called Neolithic Revolution which started around 10,000 B.C.

This region covers most parts of modern-day Iraq and Kuwait and also parts of eastern Syria and southeastern Turkey. The Tigris River, along with its western counterpart, the Euphrates River, was a critical part of the so-called “Fertile Crescent” which allowed this otherwise desolate desert region to thrive.

Some of the most important events in human history are believed to have happened on the banks of the river as well, including the invention of the wheel, the development of agriculture, and the invention of cursive script, mathematics, and astrology!

Mesopotamia Map
Mesopotamia / Joel Bellviure /

2. Its name was derived from a word in an ancient language

The first real people that settled in the area were the Sumerians who established themselves between the sixth and fifth millennium B.C. and thrived around 3,000 B.C. They grew crops by irrigating the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and were able to build the first urban settlements.

That’s why it’s believed that the word “Tigris” was derived from the ancient Sumerian word Idigna or Idigina, which meant “running water.” This was then derived into Akkadian, the next civilization famous for presumably building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, as “Idiqlat,” meaning “swift water.”

Tigris river facts
The river / Bjørn Christian Tørrissen /

3. The river flows through 3 different countries and 2 deserts

The Tigris River has a total length of 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles), which means it’s quite a bit shorter than the Euphrates which has a total length of approximately 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles). Its basin covers a total area of 375,000 square kilometers (145,000 square miles).

It flows all the way from the southeast of Turkey, through Turkish Kurdistan, for about 400 kilometers (248 miles), and subsequently becomes part of the Syrian-Turkish border. That’s also the only strip in which it runs through Syria for about 44 kilometers (27 miles).

As it flows through Iraq after entering Syria, it passes through both the Syrian and Arabian Deserts, the two most prominent deserts in the region.

Tigris river near baghdad
The river in Iraq / David Stanley /

4. It originates in a mountain range in eastern Turkey

So where does the Tigris River originates?

It emerges in the Taurus Mountains of eastern Turkey, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the southeast of the city of Elazig. This is also near a rift lake called Lake Hazar, which is often referred to as the source of the Tigris.

One of the most interesting Tigris River facts is that its source is also close to the source of the Euphrates River, which is situated about 30 kilometers (18 miles) away.

Taurus Mountains near the source of the Tigris river
The Taurus Mountains near the source of the river / Pixabay

5. The 2 rivers join each other but that was not always the case

The river flows all through Iraq and eventually drains into the Persian Gulf. One of the most intriguing facts is that it first joins the Euphrates river to form the “Shatt al-Arab,” the river formed from the confluence of the two major rivers.

This confluence happens near a town called “al-Qurnah” and flows for approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) before draining into the Persian Gulf near the port city of Basra.

According to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who lived in the 1st century A.D., this confluence didn’t actually exist about 2,000 years ago, and both the Tigris and the Euphrates were directly released into the Persian Gulf back then.

Shatt al-Arab near Basra in Iraq
Shatt al-Arab near Basra / Wiki commons

6. The two biggest cities in Iraq were founded on its banks

Both the capital and largest city of Iraq, Baghdad, and the second-largest city in the country, Mosul, were founded on the banks of the Tigris River.

These two modern-day cities are just a few of the countless ancient cities that emerged on the banks of the river in Mesopotamia. Some of these included the major cities of:

  • Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
  • Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian Empire.
  • Seleucia, the major city of the Seleucid Empire.

These cities and ancient civilizations couldn’t have existed in the desolate desert landscape without the Tigris, similar to how the Ancient Egyptians couldn’t have thrived without the Nile River!

Tigris River in Baghdad
The river in Baghdad / Wiki Commons

7. Steamers on the river increased tourism in the early 20th century

Thriving ancient civilizations also grew because they could use the river as a way of transportation. That’s why all throughout its history, the river has been used as a transport route that allowed small vessels to travel all the way up to the area of Baghdad.

Back in the 19th century, these small vessels were replaced by steamers that could travel all the way up to Syria. A company was established in 1861 by the Lynch brothers called the “Tigris Steam Navigation Company” which operated 10 steamers by the early 20th century.

One of the most fascinating Tigris River facts is that this also established the first age of archaeological tourism as tourists could travel inland and visit historical sites such as “Ur,” which features remains of the Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia, and the remains of the ancient city of “Ctesiphon.”

Original transportation on the Tigris river
Original transportation on the river / Wiki Commons

8. The river played an important role during World War I

The river also played an important role during the British conquest of Ottoman Mesopotamia during World War I. Ships were used to supply the British army which played crucial roles during the Siege of Kut and this eventually culminated in the Fall of Baghdad in 1917.

After World War I, the river was slowly replaced by transport over land as the Basra-Baghdad-Mosul railway was established, as well as the completion of the Baghdad Railway near the capital city itself.

Fall of Baghdad in 1917
The Fall of Baghdad in 1917 / Wiki Commons

9. The largest dam in Iraq is located on the river

The Mosul Dam is not only the 4th-largest dam in the Middle East, but it’s also crucial for the electricity supply of the second-largest city in Iraq, which has an estimated population of about 1.5 million people.

This amazing dam on the river has a total length of 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles), a maximum height of 113 meters (371 feet), and is able to produce 3,420 gigawatt-hours (12,310 TJ) per year!

The dam also creates Lake Dahuk which has a total capacity of 11,100,000,000 cubic meters (392 billion cubic feet) of water!

Mosul Dam Aerial view
Mosul Dam aerial view / Rehman Abubakr /

10. The river has an important role in religion and mythology

The river has been considered sacred for multiple millennia, and that’s understandable because it creates a livable environment in the entire region.

It started with the Sumerians who believed that the river was created by the water god called “Enki.” The river is also mentioned in the Bible as the third of the four rivers emerging from the river flowing out of the Garden of Eden.

Finally, in the Book of Daniel, he mentioned that he received a vision while he was near “that great river the Tigris.”

Pilgrims crossing the Tigris River in Baghdad
Pilgrims crossing the river / DVIDSHUB /