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."

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  • READER COMMENTS

    وليد حسين

    2011-8-16

    The greatest thing in Iraq is the city of Babylon. It is the destination of the shining sun in Mesopotamia and we must take care of it. It was mentioned in the Holy Quran and we have to purify it from the American occupiers in order to turn it back over into the hands of the Iraqis.

  • عبد المجيد راجح

    2011-2-11

    I call on the Iraqi government to work on restoring the festival of Babil to what it was before, and to hold it annually as before, because it is an important festival and it is considered an educational festival which teaches about the ancient city of Babil. In addition to that, it is a festival of intellectual cross-fertilization between the countries participating in the festival.

  • علي روضان

    2011-2-9

    If the Iraqi government and its officials had known the importance of history and the monuments, Babylon and its monuments would never have been neglected in this way. The neglect is so alarming that it portends the demise of many historical monuments which have survived for ages, indicating that Iraq was one of the oldest civilizations on earth. This also proves that Babylon was the source of knowledge and the birthplace of the first laws on earth. This province also enjoys one of the Seven Wonders of the World that have baffled scientists, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which was an architectural and scientific wonder at that time. All in all, we want the government to work on developing Babylon and take an interest in the monuments, because this province is an historical heritage and a tourist destination for visitors from all over the world. I wonder why we do not take advantage of the historical tourism sector by developing Iraqi historical sites, mainly Babylon.

  • خالد سليمان

    2011-2-9

    Babylon is among the most important and beautiful Iraqi provinces, despite wars and cowardly terrorist acts, namely the bombing and sabotaging of cultural and historical sites that it has witnessed. In fact, many precious and priceless monuments were stolen by corrupt people who are not Iraqis, because Iraqi citizens are patriotic and proud, and they do not like to destroy their country. The robbers are a group of people who infiltrated Iraq to carry out the agenda of a cowardly category of people who hate Iraq and Iraqis. We have to unite as Iraqi citizens in order to rebuild this beautiful province, and we call on our brave government to show further interest in this civilized and historical city. The latter is an important historic landmark, since it lies on the banks of the Euphrates River next to Hilla city. Babylon contains the Hanging Gardens, which are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It also contains eight gates, the largest of which is called Ishtar Gate. The latter was mentioned in the Holy Quran: “They taught witchcraft to the people and that which was revealed to the two angels, Harut and Marut, in the city of Babylon.” Hammurabi also enacted his laws in this city of civilizations. All the above-mentioned is history. How can we let it collapse without thinking of developing it? Only patience, strength and determination will enable us to build and restore the lost glory of this important, civilized and historical city.

  • حسن الصالحي

    2011-2-9

    We must develop this civilized and important city so as to remember its civilized history, the most important history in the world. The government must find a significant solution for this historic city, since it contains many important monuments which were devastated by wars and terrorist acts. Babylon’s people have to cooperate and try to protect this history by calling on the provincial councils to reconstruct these monuments, because Babylon is a very important historic and tourist region, which attracts many visitors from everywhere to discover the places and broaden their culture. This province will be an important source for civilization and urban development. As far as we are concerned, we want to encourage determined people to rebuild and rehabilitate what has been destroyed.

  • ميسون غانم

    2011-2-8

    We can make this city a tourist site as it used to be in the past through urban development, protecting it, rehabilitating it and establishing residential areas and even entertainment venues next to it, in order to revive it once again. In fact, this historic site has been neglected lately, because Iraq was going through such difficult conditions due to the terrorist acts which affected almost all its cities, including Babylon.

  • اياد حسني

    2011-2-6

    There must be care and attention given to archeology and the ancient cities in Iraq, especially the city of Babil, which must be dealt with by archeological experts to develop it, because it is one of the most important archeological cities. This is where the responsibility of the government comes in, in dealing with such ancient cities as required, through proper reconstruction, to maintain the original and historical sites located there.

  • احمد قيس

    2011-2-6

    The ancient city of Babylon is one of the nicest and most famous archaeological sites in Iraq and the world, because it is still a whole city that has remained since the time of the Babylonians. It has great significance in uncovering Iraqi history and the landmarks of civilization from that important period of Iraq's history, because it was an era of development and prosperity in the past. Now, frankly, there is gross neglect suffered by the archaeological city of Babylon, in terms of construction and rehabilitation. Also, there is media and promotional negligence and it is completely unknown, after being one of the most important wonders and archeological sites in the world. But the reality now shows that it is largely neglected. So I believe that we can benefit from this city, if we deal appropriately with the Iraqi antiquities; that may be one of the most important reasons to increase tourism in the country and the national income in general.

  • زياد حارث

    2011-2-6

    Babylon is one of the most famous provinces of Iraq, because of its importance, as it embraced a great civilization and many important monuments, and the most important is the ancient city of Babylon, which is one of the most famous ancient cities in Iraq. I think that this important city should be developed and rehabilitated, so it can take its rightful position among the monuments of the world, and to encourage tourism. Also, the province needs to build a good infrastructure, the construction of modern highways connecting to the ancient city directly, and the spread of nearby markets, and also hotel construction, lakes and other things that would help the development of the province and the ancient city of Babylon, and provide a good atmosphere for tourism. This is what is needed by the city of Babylon in order to be developed, and for its reputation to reach the entire world, like the rest of the ancient cities scattered throughout some Arab countries in particular. These are cities which are very famous and sophisticated, while the largest and most ancient city of Babylon is not renowned like the famous cities in the neighboring countries. The reason is, as I said, neglect. Frankly, many people, and I am one of them, are afraid and concerned that these beautiful monuments may collapse because of this neglect and acts of sabotage.

  • نصير قاسم

    2011-2-6

    The city of Babylon is one of the most important historical cities in the world, as it has a cultural significance and a history that dates back thousands of years. It is the city of the Hanging Gardens and the famous obelisk of Hammurabi, which was highly respected in the whole world. Hence, regarding its importance, we should work on the development of this ancient city by taking care of its monuments, which are the most important treasures of the world.

  • بديع راضي

    2011-2-4

    Monuments are a precious treasure. Thus, we must take greater interest in them by preserving and protecting them. Monuments must also be supervised by people. They must also be studied and what they represent must be explained to visitors so as to highlight the importance of these monuments and how they were constructed.

  • ali-baqubah

    2011-1-30

    Frankly speaking, this is an honest council member, because his idea is 100% Iraqi. Every Iraqi hopes that Babil will return to its former position. We also hope that this idea will be implemented and not be forgotten. We support all similar work because we want Babil to be the most important tourist destination in the world, God willing.

  • ابو صلاح

    2011-1-28

    I hope that the ancient city of Babil will be developed and that hotels will be built there, because frankly, there is a real lack of tourism services in the city.

  • أبو جاسم

    2011-1-24

    This is a brilliant idea and a blessed step to lead Iraq towards internationalism and to qualify it to restore its normal status and return to the spotlight. We wish that the old city would witness comprehensive development by international companies in cooperation with Iraqi companies, to exchange experiences and make the city a favorite tourist destination and the home of an international center for the study of ancient monuments. This will provide the Iraqi economy with more resources to strengthen it. We wish that the Iraqi press would shed light on the project and follow it until it becomes a reality.