Iraqi lawmakers propose Babylon reconstruction and development

Previous restoration projects included work on the Ishtar Gate. [Atef Hassan / Reuters]

Previous restoration projects included work on the Ishtar Gate. [Atef Hassan / Reuters]

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The Iraqi parliament is discussing a new proposal to restore the ancient city of Babylon and develop it into a premiere international destination for archaeologists, historians and tourists.

As part of the proposal, a new comprehensive plan would turn the city into an independent general directorate with a special central budget and a crew of Iraqi archaeologists supported by international excavation experts.

Ali al-Shlah, the National Alliance lawmaker who submitted the proposal last week, said it has received considerable attention and praise from other lawmakers who have voiced support for developing the proposal into a bill.

"The issue of a law for the archaeological city of Babylon would be a major landmark in the history and march of the Iraqi parliament through which we can prove to the world that the new Iraq is an extension of the Mesopotamian civilization with all the landmarks, manifestations and legacy that this civilization has left to humanity," al-Shlah said.

The proposal would also create an institute for Babylonian and Sumerian studies for Iraqi and foreign students to encourage a new generation of archaeologists interested in ancient Mesopotamia.

In addition, the proposal suggests creating a research and media center that would supply texts in several languages, issue colored-coded tourist guides to be renewed every two years, and produce a new website to illuminate the ancient civilization's standing in world history.

Under the proposal, admission fees would be imposed on visitors to the archaeological city, including a nominal fee for Iraqis and a higher fee for foreign tourists. These fees would be returned to the Babil provincial budget to fund city maintenance.

Al-Shlah called for "choosing an Iraqi cultural figure to be the mayor of the archaeological city of Babylon who will symbolically attend all local and international forums. This post will be a means for honoring top creative figures in Iraq by choosing them on a rotating basis to have the honor of representing the city."

Additionally, Al-Shlah stressed the need to encourage tourism in Babylon by using media and public relations to highlight the city's landmarks to an international audience. He also proposed building supplemental tourist facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, markets and cultural facilities, as well as providing transportation to and from Babil.

Babylon was founded in the 3rd millennium BC and was famous under the rule of King Hammurabi, whose Law Code statue is at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In subsequent centuries, the city was conquered, demolished and rebuilt several times until it became the largest city in the world under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II, who built the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Over the past two years, teams from Iraq and the United States carried out repair work in cooperation with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Monuments Fund.

The work included restoring the Babylon museum, the remains of the Hanging Gardens, Nebuchadnezzar Palace, a model of the Ishtar Gate and some of the monuments in the old town. The work was financed by a $2 million grant from the United States for preserving and protecting Babylonian monuments.

Baha al-Mayahi, an adviser for the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, said the ministry "supports any law enacted by the parliament to renovate and develop the archaeological sites in Iraq".

"As a ministry, we have placed the reconstruction of Babylon and promotion of its infrastructure and level of tourist services in it among our priorities. We will support any national plan or strategy in this regard," he said.

Antiquities researcher Moataz Hasan said reconstruction efforts require cooperation and intense support from all international institutions and organizations involved.

"The repairs that were implemented at some archaeological landmarks in the city were very important," Hasan said. "However, there is still an increasing need for more strenuous work with our partners in the world and for more money to maintain the antiquities of Babylon and turn it to a prominent tourist destination."