Baghdad (Arabic: بغداد Baġdād) is the capital of Iraq and of Baghdad Governorate, with which it is coterminous. Having a municipal population estimated at 6.5 million, it is the largest city in Iraq and the second largest (after Cairo) in the Arab World.
Located on the River Tigris, the city dates back to the 8th century and was once the centre of the Muslim world.
Founding of Baghdad
On 30 July 762 the caliph Abu Ja'far Al-Mansur founded the city. Mansur believed that Baghdad was the perfect city to be the capital of the Islamic empire under the Abbasids. Mansur loved the site so much he is quoted saying, “This is indeed the city that I am to found, where I am to live, and where my descendants will reign afterward". The city's growth was helped by its location, which gave it control over strategic and trading routes (along the Tigris to the sea and east-west from the Middle East to the rest of Asia). Monthly trade fairs were also held in this area. Another reason why Baghdad provided an excellent location was due to the abundance of water and its dry climate. Water exists on both north and south ends of the city gates, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply, which was very uncommon during this time. Baghdad reached its greatest prosperity during the reign of the caliph Harun al-Rashid in the early 9th century.
Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located some 30 km (20 miles) to the southeast, which had been under Muslim control since 637, and which became quickly deserted after the foundation of Baghdad. The site of Babylon, which had been deserted since the 2nd century BC, lies some 90 km (55 miles) to the south.
The making of Baghdad
In its early years the city was known as a deliberate reminder of an expression in the Qu'ran, when it refers to Paradise. Four years before Baghdad's foundation, in 758, Mansur assembled engineers, surveyors, and art constructionists from around the world to come together and draw up plans for the city. Over 100,000 construction workers came to survey the plans; many were distributed salaries to start the building of the grand city. The framework of the city itself is two large semicircles about twelve miles (19 km) in diameter. July was chosen as the starting time because two astronomers, Naubaknt and Mashallah, believed that the city should be built under the sign of the lion, Leo. Leo is significant because he is the element of fire and symbolises productivity, proudness, and expansion. The bricks used to make the city were 18” on all four sides. Abu Hanifa was the counter of the bricks and he developed a canal, which brought water to the work site for the use of both human consumption and the manufacturing of the bricks. Also, throughout the city marble was used to make the buildings and marble steps led down to the river’s edge. Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and beautiful promenades which gave the city an elegant and classy finish. The city was designed as a circle about 2 km in diameter, leading it to be known as the "Round City". The original design shows a ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring, inside the first. In the centre of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. The purpose or use of the remaining space in the center is unknown. The circular design of the city was a direct reflection of the traditional Arab urban design. The ancient Sasanian city of Gur is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and the government buildings and temples at the centre of the city.
The Iraqi National Orchestra, officially founded in 1959, performing a concert in Iraq in July 2007. Baghdad has always played an important role in Arab cultural life and has been the home of noted writers, musicians and visual artists.
The dialect of Arabic spoken in Baghdad today differs from that of other large urban centres in Iraq, having features more characteristic of nomadic Arabic dialects (Verseegh, The Arabic Language). It is possible that this was caused by the repopulating of the city with rural residents after the multiple sacks of the late Middle Ages.
Some of the important cultural institutions in the city include:
Iraqi National Orchestra – Rehearsals and performances were briefly interrupted during the Second Gulf War, but have since returned to normal.
National Theatre of Iraq – The theatre was looted during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, but efforts are underway to restore the theatre.
The live theatre scene received a boost during the 1990s when UN sanctions limited the import of foreign films. As many as 30 movie theatres were reported to have been converted to live stages, producing a wide range of comedies and dramatic productions.
Institutions offering cultural education in Baghdad include the Academy of Music, Institute of Fine Arts and the Music and Ballet school Baghdad. Baghdad is also home to a number of museums which housed artifacts and relics of ancient civilizations; many of these were stolen, and the museums looted, during the widespread chaos immediately after U.S. forces entered the city.
During the 2003 occupation of Iraq, AFN Iraq ("Freedom Radio") broadcast news and entertainment within Baghdad, among other locations. There is also a private radio station called "Dijlah" (named after the Arabic word for the Tigris River) that was created in 2004 as Iraq's first independent talk radio station. Radio Dijlah offices, in the Jamia neighborhood of Baghdad, have been attacked on several occasions.
Sights and monuments
Points of interest include the National Museum of Iraq whose priceless collection of artifacts were looted during the 2003 invasion, and the iconic Hands of Victory arches. Multiple Iraqi parties are in discussions as to whether the arches should remain as historical monuments or be dismantled. Thousands of ancient manuscripts in the National Library were destroyed when the building burnt down during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Al Kadhimain Shrine in the northwest of Baghdad (in Kadhimiya) is one of the most important Shi'ite religious sites in Iraq. It was finished in 1515 and the 7th (Musa ibn Jafar al-Kathim) and the 9th Imams (Mohammad al-Jawad) were buried there. One of the oldest buildings is the 12th century or 13th century Abbasid Palace. The palace is part of the central historical area of the city and close to other historically important buildings such as the Saray Building and Al-Mustansiriyah School (From the Abbasid Period). There are other landmarks in Baghdad, each of which marks a certain historical era:
Baghdad Tower now the Ma'amoon Telecommunication Center tower, the tower used to be the highest point in the city and from where all Baghdad can be seen. The construction of the tower marks a period of the post-Gulf-war of 1991 reconstruction efforts.
The Two Level Bridge in Jadriyah (Jisr Abul Tabqain). Even though planning for this bridge began before Saddam's take over, the bridge was never built. As part of recent reconstruction efforts, the long planned bridge was built. It connects Al-Doura area with the rest of Baghdad and compliments the 14th of July Bridge.
Sahat Al Tahrir (Liberation Square) in central Baghdad.
Baghdadi Museum (wax museum)
Mustansiriya School, a 13th century Abbasid structure
Al-Zawra'a Park in Al-Mansour Area and almost in a central location of Baghdad.
Kahramana and the 40 Thieves Square.
Al Jundi Al Majhool Monument (The Monument to the Unknown Soldier).
Al Shaheed Monument. Monument to the Iraqi soldiers killed in the Iran–Iraq War, located on the east bank of the Tigris.
A wide road built under Saddam as a parade route, and across it is the Hands of Victory, a pair of enormous crossed swords cast from weapons of soldiers who died in the Iran–Iraq War under Saddam's command.