The Ashmolean

Iraq: Navel of the World

City Life

Some of the greatest cities the world has ever known have flourished in Iraq. Five millennia ago Uruk, legendary home of the hero Gilgamesh, had a population of hundreds of thousands. Later Ur, then Babylon and Nineveh, each became capitals of great empires: Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian. The Old Testament tells of how the patriarch Abraham was born at Ur, while it portrays Nineveh and Babylon as synonymous with corruption and decay. In reality, however, they were thriving centres of commerce, production, and scholarship, with temples at their heart.

Baghdad was founded in 146 AH (762 AD) by the Abbasid caliph Mansur. He built it as a round city with the caliphal palace and Friday mosque at its very centre. As the city grew in size and splendour, its original shape was lost. Today Baghdad is home to over 5 million people. Several medieval buildings still stand. There are more substantial medieval quarters in Mosul and Basra.

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