In Iraq, all roads lead to the capital Baghdad, the City of the Caliphs and birthplace of Sinbad, the famous sailor and prosperous merchant. A city with a glorious past and a magnificent present.
Baghdad indeed, 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 4 hundred dead years of Ottoman rule. In other words, Baghdad is the still-beating heart of a former cradle of civilization, a country as historically dramatic as the Nile Valley or Ancient Greece.
How old is Baghdad?
Baghdad, as a name, had been mentioned as Baghdadu on the Assyrian cuneiform records of the 9th century BC, and Babylonian bricks bearing the Royal Seal of King Nebuchadnezzar (6th century BC) were found in the Tigris here. It also appeared in many other historical records prior to the Christian era. But whatever settlement existed then, historic Baghdad was undoubtedly founded by the 2nd of the Abbasid Caliphs, Abu Ja'far Al-Mansour (AD 754-775), who had established his capital (The Round City) in almost the same location on the west bank of the Tigris River in 762 AD, and the name Baghdad is probably a combination of two Persian words meaning "Founded by God". Arabs call it "Dar Essalam" (The City of Peace).
Circular walls enclosed the city. At the city's center were the caliph's palace and the grand mosque, with four roads radiating out from these central buildings. The city's gradual expansion caused it to extend beyond the original walls, and as it spread across to the river's east bank, its two halves were joined by a bridge built of boats. The eastern section was called Rusafa, and the western section was called Karkh.
Under Caliph Harun, the lands of Islam enjoyed unprecedented glory and wealth. Baghdad became the richest city of the world during the 8th and 9th centuries AD, and for nearly 5 centuries it boasted impressive and magnificent palaces, public buildings, mosques, baths, markets, gardens, all of legendary renown. Its wharves were lined with ships- from China bringing porcelain; from Malaya and India with spices and dyes; from Turkestan with lapis lazuli and slaves; from East Africa with ivory and gold dust; and from Arabia with pearls and weapons. It lasted as the capital of the Abbasid Dynasty up to the Mongol invasion in 1258 AD. Nevertheless, the city of Baghdad went on as the capital of Iraq up to the present time.
Mathematics developed in Baghdad. The Baghdadis introduced the zero and the system of numbers we use nowadays; Aristotle and Plato were translated; Caliph Mamun built an astronomical observatory where savants measured the earth's surface six hundred years before Europe admitted it was not flat.
Caliph Harun had already inaugurated a free public hospital, and no doctor was allowed to practise without a diploma from a medical school.
Nowadays Baghdad, with more than 3.2 million inhabitants, situated in the interior of the country on the river Tigris at the point where land transportation meets river transportation, is a combination of all that is best in old and new. Multi-storey buildings often tower over ancient arcaded bazaars overflowing with fantastic things. Motley of colors, races, costumes, and ways of life gives the city an air of vitality and excitement. European dress rubs shoulder with Arab costume, blue jeans with ornate Kurdish clothes. Here, there is so much to see; and so much you may want to take home with you.
Divided as it is by the Tigris into two halves, Rusafa and Karkh, which are connected by several modem bridges. In Rusafa is Al-Rashid Street, the city's main street, stretching from North Gate to South Gate, and still very much the commercial center of Baghdad, with the old souqs lined up on both sides. Parallel with it is the Caliphs Street, where some historical mosques and churches, together with some new government offices, are to be found. In Sadoun Street stretching all the way from Tahrir (Liberation) Square to Masbah, you will find most first-class hotels, cinemas, airline offices, travel agencies and some government departments, such as the State Organization for Tourism. Almost parallel with it is Abu Nuwas Street, a beautiful river drive that runs by the Tigris from Jumhouriya Bridge to the 14th July Suspended Bridge.
In Karkh, the Western half of the city, is Damascus Street, stretching from Damascus Square to the International Airport Road, where you will find the International Railway Station, Zawra Park, and the vast grounds of the Baghdad International Fair.
What to see in Baghdad?