Baghdad
City
بغداد Baġdād
Coordinates:
Country  Iraq
Province Baghdad
Established 762 AD.
Founded by Abu Jafar al-Mansour
Government
 • Type Mayor-council
 • Body Baghdad City Advisory Council
 • Mayor Saber Nabet Al-Essawi
Area
 • Total 2,260.2 km2 (872.7 sq mi)
Elevation 34 m (112 ft)
Population
 • Estimate (2015) 9,100,789
 • Rank 1st
Time zone Arabia Standard Time (UTC+3)
 • Summer (DST) No DST (UTC)

Baghdad is the capital city and largest city in Iraq. It is the second-largest city in Southwest Asia after Tehran. It is the second-largest city in the Arab world after Cairo. It has 5,772,000 people (2003). Baghdad is on the Tigris River at 33°20′N 44°26′E. The city was once the center of Dar al-Islam, Muslim civilization. Baghdad used to be one of the largest learning centers in the world, during the post classical era.

History

Foundation

AlKhulafa Mosque Iraq
Al Khulafa historical mosque in Baghdad

After the fall of the Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty, the victorious Abbasid rulers wanted their own capital whence they could rule. They chose a site north of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (and also just north of where ancient Babylon had once stood), on 30 July 762, the caliph Al-Mansur commissioned the construction of the city, and it was built under the supervision of the Barmakids. 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 excellent location, based on at least two factors: it had control over strategic and trading routes along the Tigris; the abundance of water in a dry climate. Water exists on both the north and south ends of the city, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply, which was very uncommon during this time.

Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located some 30 km (19 mi) to the southeast. Today, all that remains of Ctesiphon is the shrine town of Salman Pak, just to the south of Greater Baghdad. Ctesiphon itself had replaced and absorbed Seleucia, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire. Seleucia had earlier replaced the city of Babylon.

Baghdad-Zumurrud-Khaton
Zumurrud Khaton tomb in Baghdad (built in 1202 AD), photo of 1932.

In its early years, the city was known as a deliberate reminder of an expression in the Qur'an, when it refers to Paradise. It took four years to build (764-768). 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 city. July was chosen as the starting time because two Astrologers, Naubakht Ahvazi and Mashallah, believed that the city should be built under the sign of the lion, Leo. Leo is associated with fire and symbolises productivity, pride, and expansion.

The bricks used to make the city were 18 inches (460 mm) on all four sides. Abu Hanifah 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. Marble was also used to make buildings throughout the city, and marble steps led down to the river's edge.

The basic framework of the city consists of two large semicircles about 19 km (12 mi) in diameter. The city was designed as a circle about 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter, leading it to be known as the "Round City". The original design shows as single ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring inside the first. Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and promenades. In the center 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 Persian Sasanian urban design. The Sasanian city of Gur in Fars, built 500 years before Baghdad, is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and the government buildings and temples at the centre of the city. This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities are designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.

Surrounding walls

The four surrounding walls of Baghdad were named Kufa, Basra, Khurasan, and Syria; named because their gates pointed in the directions of these destinations. The distance between these gates was a little less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi). Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them. The wall itself was about 44 m thick at the base and about 12 m thick at the top. Also, the wall was 30 m high, which included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures. This wall was surrounded by another wall with a thickness of 50 m. The second wall had towers and rounded merlons, which surrounded the towers. This outer wall was protected by a solid glacis, which is made out of bricks and quicklime. Beyond the outer wall was a water-filled moat.

Golden Gate Palace

In the middle of Baghdad, in the central square was the Golden Gate Palace. The Palace was the residence of the caliph and his family. In the central part of the building was a green dome that was 39 m high. Surrounding the palace was an esplanade, a waterside building, in which only the caliph could come riding on horseback. In addition, the palace was near other mansions and officer's residences. Near the Gate of Syria a building served as the home for the guards. It was made of brick and marble. The palace governor lived in the latter part of the building and the commander of the guards in the front. In 813, after the death of caliph Al-Amin the palace was no longer used as the home for the caliph and his family. The roundness points to the fact that it was based on Arabic script. The two designers who were hired by Al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht, a Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a Jew from Khorasan, Iran.

Abbasids and the round city

Baghdad 150 to 300 AH
The Round city of Baghdad between 767 and 912 AD

The Abbasid Caliphate was based on their being the descendants of the uncle of Muhammad and being part of the Quraysh tribe. They used Shi'a resentment, Khorasanian movement, and appeals to the ambitions and traditions of the newly conquered Persian aristocracy to overthrow the Umayyads. The Abbasids sought to combine the hegemony of the Arab tribes with the imperial, court, ceremonial, and administrative structures of the Persians. The Abbasids considered themselves the inherittures and the need of Mansur to place the capital in a place that was representative of Arab-Islamic identity by building the House of Wisdom, where ancient texts were translated from their original language, such as Greek, to Arabic. Mansur is credited with the "Translation Movement" for this. Further, Baghdad is also near the ancient Sassanid imperial seat of Ctesiphon on the Tigris River.

Center of learning (8th to 13th centuries)

Further information: Islamic Golden Age

Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. Scholars headed to Baghdad from all over the Abbasid Caliphate, facilitating the introduction of Persian, Greek and Indian science into the Arabic and Islamic world at that time. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it was tied by Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak. Many of the One Thousand and One Nights tales are set in Baghdad during this period.

Among the notable features of Baghdad during this period were its exceptional libraries. Many of the Abbasid caliphs were patrons of learning and enjoyed collecting both ancient and contemporary literature. Although some of the princes of the previous Umayyad dynasty had begun to gather and translate Greek scientific literature, the Abbasids were the first to foster Greek learning on a large scale. Many of these libraries were private collections intended only for the use of the owners and their immediate friends, but the libraries of the caliphs and other officials soon took on a public or a semi-public character. Four great libraries were established in Baghdad during this period. The earliest was that of the famous Al Mamun, who was caliph from 813 to 833. Another was established by Sabur Ibn Ardashir in 991 or 993 for the literary men and scholars who frequented his academy. Unfortunately, this second library was plundered and burned by the Seljuks only seventy years after it was established. This was a good example of the sort of library built up out of the needs and interests of a literary society. The last two were examples of madrasa or theological college libraries. The Nizamiyah was founded by the Persian Nizam al Mulk, who was vizier of two early Seljuk sultans. It continued to operate even after the coming of the Mongols in 1258. The Mustansiriyah madrasa, which owned an exceedingly rich library, was founded by Al Mustansir, the second last Abbasid caliph, who died in 1242. This would prove to be the last great library built by the caliphs of Baghdad.

End of the Abbasids in Baghdad

Baghdad old Abbasid Minaret
Suq al-Ghazel (The Yarn Bazaar) Minaret in Baghdad, Mesopotamia (Iraq). This is the oldest minaret in Baghdad. It belonged to the Caliph Mosque, built by Caliph Muktafi 901–907 AD.

By the 10th century, the city's population was between 1.2 million and 2 million. Baghdad's early meteoric growth eventually slowed due to troubles within the Caliphate, including relocations of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135).

The Seljuks were a clan of the Oghuz Turks from the Central Asia that converted to the Sunni branch of Islam. In 1040, they destroyed the Ghaznavids, taking over their land and in 1055, Tughril Beg, the leader of the Seljuks, took over Baghdad. The Seljuks expelled the Buyid dynasty of Shiites that ruled for some time and took over power and control of Baghdad. They ruled as Sultans in the name of the Abbasid caliphs (they saw themselves as being part of the Abbasid regime). Tughril Beg saw himself as the protector of the Abbasid Caliphs.

Wars in which Baghdad was involved are listed below:

  • Siege of Baghdad (812–813), Fourth Fitna (Islamic Civil War)
  • Siege of Baghdad (865), Caliphal Civil War (865–866)
  • Battle of Baghdad (946), Buyid–Hamdanid War
  • Siege of Baghdad (1157), Abbasid–Seljuq Wars
  • Siege of Baghdad (1258), Mongol conquest of Baghdad
  • Siege of Baghdad (1401), by Tamerlane
  • Capture of Baghdad (1534), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
  • Capture of Baghdad (1623), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
  • Siege of Baghdad (1625), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
  • Capture of Baghdad (1638), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
  • Fall of Baghdad (1917), World War I
  • 1941 Iraqi coup d'état, World War II
  • Battle of Baghdad (2003), United States invasion of Iraq
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Conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258

In 1058, Baghdad was captured by the Fatimids under the Turkish general Abu'l-Ḥārith Arslān al-Basasiri, an adherent of the Ismailis along with the 'Uqaylid Quraysh. Not long before the arrival of the Saljuqs in Baghdad, al-Basasiri petitioned to the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir to support him in conquering Baghdad on the Ismaili Imam's behalf. It has recently come to light that the famed Fatimid da'i, al-Mu'ayyad al-Shirazi, had a direct role in supporting al-Basasiri and helped the general to succeed in taking Mawṣil, Wāsit and Kufa. Soon after, by December 1058, a Shi'i adhān (call to prayer) was implemented in Baghdad and a khutbah (sermon) was delivered in the name of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph. Despite his Shi'i inclinations, Al-Basasiri received support from Sunnis and Shi'is alike, for whom opposition to the Saljuq power was a common factor.

On 10 February 1258, Baghdad was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu, a grandson of Chingiz Khan (Genghis Khan), during the siege of Baghdad. Many quarters were ruined by fire, siege, or looting. The Mongols massacred most of the city's inhabitants, including the caliph Al-Musta'sim, and destroyed large sections of the city. The canals and dykes forming the city's irrigation system were also destroyed. During this time, in Baghdad, Christians and Shia were tolerated, while Sunnis were treated as enemies. The sack of Baghdad put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate, a blow from which the Islamic civilization never fully recovered.

At this point, Baghdad was ruled by the Ilkhanate, a breakaway state of the Mongol Empire, ruling from Iran. In 1401, Baghdad was again sacked, by the Central Asian Turkic conqueror Timur ("Tamerlane"). When his forces took Baghdad, he spared almost no one, and ordered that each of his soldiers bring back two severed human heads. It became a provincial capital controlled by the Mongol Jalayirid (1400–1411), Turkic Kara Koyunlu (1411–1469), Turkic Ak Koyunlu (1469–1508), and the Iranian Safavid (1508–1534) dynasties.

Baghdad-Carriage 1930
Baghdad in 1930

Ottoman era (16th to 19th centuries)

In 1534, Baghdad was captured by the Ottoman Turks. Under the Ottomans, Baghdad continued into a period of decline, partially as a result of the enmity between its rulers and Iranian Safavids, which did not accept the Sunni control of the city. Between 1623 and 1638, it returned to Iranian rule before falling back into Ottoman hands.

Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague and cholera, and sometimes two-thirds of its population has been wiped out.

For a time, Baghdad had been the largest city in the Middle East. The city saw relative revival in the latter part of the 18th century under a Mamluk government. Direct Ottoman rule was reimposed by Ali Rıza Pasha in 1831. From 1851 to 1852 and from 1861 to 1867, Baghdad was governed, under the Ottoman Empire by Mehmed Namık Pasha. The Nuttall Encyclopedia reports the 1907 population of Baghdad as 185,000.

20th and 21st centuries

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Baghdad in 1932
20160102-Tahrir square Baghdad
Tahrir square in Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad and southern Iraq remained under Ottoman rule until 1917, when captured by the British during World War I. In 1920, Baghdad became the capital of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia and after receiving independence in 1932, the capital of the Kingdom of Iraq. The city's population grew from an estimated 145,000 in 1900 to 580,000 in 1950. During the Mandate, Baghdad's substantial Jewish community comprised a quarter of the city's population.

On 1 April 1941, members of the "Golden Square" and Rashid Ali staged a coup in Baghdad. Rashid Ali installed a pro-German and pro-Italian government to replace the pro-British government of Regent Abdul Ilah. On 31 May, after the resulting Anglo-Iraqi War and after Rashid Ali and his government had fled, the Mayor of Baghdad surrendered to British and Commonwealth forces.

On 14 July 1958, members of the Iraqi Army, under Abd al-Karim Qasim, staged a coup to topple the Kingdom of Iraq. King Faisal II, former Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, former Regent Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, members of the royal family, and others were brutally killed during the coup. Many of the victim's bodies were then dragged through the streets of Baghdad.

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Al Faw Palace in Baghdad

During the 1970s, Baghdad experienced a period of prosperity and growth because of a sharp increase in the price of petroleum, Iraq's main export. New infrastructure including modern sewerage, water, and highway facilities were built during this period. The masterplans of the city (1967, 1973) were delivered by the Polish planning office Miastoprojekt-Kraków, mediated by Polservice. However, the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s was a difficult time for the city, as money was diverted by Saddam Hussein to the army and thousands of residents were killed. Iran launched a number of missile attacks against Baghdad in retaliation for Saddam Hussein's continuous bombardments of Tehran's residential districts.

In 1991 and 2003, the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused significant damage to Baghdad's transportation, power, and sanitary infrastructure as the US-led coalition forces launched massive aerial assaults in the city in the two wars. Also in 2003, the minor riot in the city (which took place on 21 July) caused some disturbance in the population.

The historic "Assyrian Quarter" of the city, Dora, which boasted a population of 150,000 Assyrians in 2003, made up over 3% of the capital's Assyrian population then. The community has been subject to kidnappings, death threats, vandalism, and house burnings by Alqaida and other insurgent groups. As of the end of 2014, only 1,500 Assyrians remained in Dora.

Main sights

Al-Mutanabbi Statue in Baghdad(Cropped)
Al-Mutanabbi Statue at the end of Mutanabbi Street beside the Tigris.

Points of interest include the National Museum of Iraq whose priceless collection of artifacts was 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 under Saddam's command.

Mutanabbi Street

Mutanabbi Street (Arabic: شارع المتنبي) is located near the old quarter of Baghdad; at Al Rasheed Street. It is the historic center of Baghdadi book-selling, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. It was named after the 10th-century classical Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabbi. This street is well established for bookselling and has often been referred to as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literacy and intellectual community.

Baghdad Zoo

The zoological park used to be the largest in the Middle East. Within eight days following the 2003 invasion, however, only 35 of the 650 animals in the facility survived. This was a result of theft of some animals for human food, and starvation of caged animals that had no food. South African Lawrence Anthony and some of the zoo keepers cared for the animals and fed the carnivores with donkeys they had bought locally. Eventually, L. Paul Bremer, Director of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 11 May 2003 to 28 June 2004 ordered protection of the zoo and U.S. engineers helped to reopen the facility.

Mosque of the Kadhimain

Al-Kadhimiyyah Mosque is a shrine that is located in the Kādhimayn suburb of Baghdad. It contains the tombs of the seventh and ninth Twelver Shi'ite Imams, Musa al-Kadhim and Muhammad at-Taqi respectively, upon whom the title of Kāẓimayn (Arabic: كَـاظِـمَـيـن, "Two who swallow their anger") was bestowed. Many Shi'ites travel to the mosque from far away places to commemorate.

Mosque of Abu Hanifah

Just as Kadhimiyyah is a predominantly Shi'ite neighborhood with a Mosque that is associated with Shi'ite Imams, A'dhamiyyah is a predominantly Sunni area with a Mosque that is associated with the Sunni Imam Abu Hanifah. The name of Al-A‘ẓamiyyah (Arabic: الأَعـظَـمِـيَّـة) is derived from Abu Hanifah's title, al-Imām al-A‘ẓam (Arabic: الإِمَـام الأَعـظَـم, the Great Imam).

Geography

Baghdad, Iraq
Orbital view of Baghdad

The city is located on a vast plain bisected by the River Tigris. The Tigris splits Baghdad in half, with the eastern half being called 'Risafa' and the Western half known as 'Karkh'. The land on which the city is built is almost entirely flat and low-lying, being of alluvial origin due to the periodic large floods which have occurred on the river.

Climate

Baghdad has a subtropical desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh) and is one of the hottest cities in the world. In the summer from June to August, the average maximum temperature is as high as 44 °C (111 °F) accompanied by blazing sunshine: rainfall has in fact been recorded on fewer than half a dozen occasions at this time of year and has never exceeded 1 millimetre (0.04 in). Even at night temperatures in summer are seldom below 24 °C (75 °F). Baghdad's record highest temperature of 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees Celsius) was reached in July 2015. The humidity is typically very low (under 10%) due to Baghdad's distance from the marshy southern Iraq and the coasts of Persian Gulf, and dust storms from the deserts to the west are a normal occurrence during the summer.

Winters boast mild days and chilly nights. From December to February, Baghdad has maximum temperatures averaging 15.5 to 18.5 °C (59.9 to 65.3 °F), though highs above 70 °F (21 °C) are not unheard of. Morning temperatures can be chilly: the average January low is 3.8 °C (38.8 °F) but lows below freezing only occur a couple of times per year.

Annual rainfall, almost entirely confined to the period from November to March, averages around 150 mm (5.91 in), but has been as high as 338 mm (13.31 in) and as low as 37 mm (1.46 in). On 11 January 2008, light snow fell across Baghdad for the first time in memory.

Culture

Iraqi National Orchestra
The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, officially founded in 1959, performing a concert in Iraq in July 2007.

Baghdad has always played a significant role in the broader Arab cultural sphere, contributing several significant writers, musicians and visual artists. Famous Arab poets and singers such as Nizar Qabbani, Umm Kulthum, Fairuz, Salah Al-Hamdani, Ilham al-Madfai and others have performed for the city.

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.

For poetry written about Baghdad, see Reuven Snir (ed.), Baghdad: The City in Verse (Harvard, 2013)[1]

Institutions

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Two ballet dancers of the Iraqi National Ballet (which is based in Baghdad) performing a ballet show in Iraq in 2007.
Baghdad Convention Center inside
Many events are hosted at the Baghdad Convention Center

Some of the important cultural institutions in the city include:

  • Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra – Rehearsals and performances were briefly interrupted during the Second Gulf War, but have since returned to normal
  • National Theater – 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 Music and Ballet School of Baghdad and the Institute of Fine Arts Baghdad. Baghdad is also home to a number of museums which housed artifacts and relics of ancient civilization; many of these were stolen, and the museums looted, during the widespread chaos immediately after United States 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.


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