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In reply to a radio guest who disparaged Baghdad - In the Shadow of Leaves
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In reply to a radio guest who disparaged Baghdad
Your guest seems to not have looked past the veneer of the last few decades of authoritarian architecture while he was in one of the great cities of world history. It's a bit like dismissing Leningrad/St Petersburg/Petrograd by its buildings of Stalin's era & later. As one of the guides below says, it doesn't hit you immediately, but settle in, look around, move quietly & with respect, & you'll be rewarded.


Babylonian bricks bearing the Royal Seal of King Nebuchadnezzar (sixth century BC) were found in the Tigris here. But whatever settlement existed then, historic Baghdad was undoubtedly founded by the second of the Abbasid Caliphs, Mansur (AD 750-775), and the name Baghdad is probably a combination of two Persian words meaning 'Founded by God'. Arabs call it 'The City of Peace'

This first Baghdad took four years to build and Mansur employed one hundred thousand architects, craftsmen and workers from all over the Islamic world. Thus came into being the famous Round City of Mansur, with double brick walls, a deep moat and a third innermost wall ninety feet high. Four highways radiated out of four gates and at the hub of everything was built the Caliph's palace with a green dome. A certain amount of judicious stealing went on: many of the stones for the palace - the centre of the universe - came from the ruins of the Persian city of Ctesiphon not far away; a wrought-iron gate was taken from Wasit, another from Kufa ...

For - one might as well declare it at once - Baghdad is not a city of stately majesty. It is not ornate and grand. It does not take your breath away like Venice, or make your heart beat a little faster like New York. It is, so to speak, a water colour, not an oil painting. It is flat and dusty - indeed, from time to time it is enveloped in maddening storms that fling dust into your room, your car, food, eyes, ears, mouth. Baghdad has muted values.

It is an ancient city struggling awkwardly to be modern. If it lacks glamour, it has considerable charm. And if even the charm must be delved for, to me such delving seems worthwhile because, more than many cities, Baghdad reflects the most unusual, country that frames it. Iraq, after all, is the old, old Mesopotamia of Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, of the glorious sun-burst of the Abbasid Empire of Harun al Rashid, of Persian intrusions,
and the affliction of four hundred dead years of Turkish rule.

In other words, Baghdad is the still-beating heart of a former cradle of civilisation, a country as historically dramatic as Ancient Greece or the Nile Valley


The city was founded in 762 by the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur, replacing Damascus as the capital of a Muslim empire stretching from North Africa to Persia ... Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad become a leading centre of learning and commerce. Some sources suggest that it contained over a million inhabitants, though the actual figure may have been a fraction of this.

Many of the tales in the Thousand and One Nights are set in the Baghdad of this period -dubbed the "City of Peace" by Scheherazade - and feature its most celebrated ruler, the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid.


Baghdad, in Iraq, has been an important city for Arabic culture for centuries. It was originally founded in 764 A.D. by second Abbasid caliph Abu Jafar al-Mansur, and called Madinat as-Salam, or the City of Peace...

Under Harun al-Rashid, starting in 786 AD, Baghdad was the ideal city in the middle east. Monarchs and rulers sought advice, alliances, and riches from the caliph. Baghdad became a central trading point between Asia and Europe. The Abbasids intellectual interest made Baghdad a centre of schooling. They excelled in the areas of medicine and mathematics.
[While Europe lay in intellectual ruins - centuries later the West used both Arabic learning & the Classical documents preserved by them during The Renaissance.]

In the thirteenth century Baghdad was destroyed by the Mongolian Turks. Residents were massacred, the caliph was murdered, and the city was ransacked. It remained under Mongol control until 1508, when it became part of a new Persian empire. Power switched back and forth between empires (see politics).

Through the power changes, Baghdad lost its wealth in knowledge, reputation and finances, but kept its accumulated culture.
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