Baghdad

Overview

Introduction

Founded in AD 762 on the west bank of the Tigris River, Baghdad was built as a city surrounded by a circular wall, with five gates. Only one of them, the restored Wastani Gate, is still in good condition. Almost nothing—except the gate and a carved marble prayer niche in the Khasaki Mosque—remains of the original "Round City." Baghdad rapidly grew to cover both sides of the river. Now Iraq's capital, it has a population of more than 7 million.

The west bank of the Tigris is called Karkh; the east side is Rusafa, where most of the ancient sites are located. On the west bank are the tombs of Sheikh Ma'ruf and Zobeidah, the Martyrs and Unknown Soldier Monument, the Royal Tulip Al Rasheed Hotel across the street (famous as the center of CNN's Gulf War coverage in 1991) and the Iraqi Museum.

Sights on the east bank include Sheikh Omar al Sahrawardi's Shrines (distinctive cone-shaped dome); the 13th-century College of Al Mustansiria and its fascinating architecture; the 14th-century Murjan Mosque; the Kadhimain Mosque (golden domes); and the Khan Murjan, now a museum and restaurant with beautiful arched ceilings. Also in Rusafa are the 13th-century Abbasid Palace and the various souks selling goods made from copper, silver, fabric, leather and gold.

The International Zone (formerly called the Green Zone) in Karkh, with the U.S. and British embassies, Parliament, several of Saddam Hussein's former palaces and various Saddam-era monuments, is not accessible to tourists.

Two nearby sites are the Kadhimain Mosque (5 mi/8 km from town), with its golden domes and minarets, and Tell Harmal (6 mi/10 km southeast), where clay tablets show that geometry was taught in this region several thousand years ago. Farther out of Baghdad are Baquba (about 40 mi/65 km northeast), which has many ruins, some dating back to 6000 BC; Agargour (20 mi/30 km northwest), which has 15th-century-BC ruins and a 170-ft-/50-m-high ziggurat); and the Arch of Ctesiphon (one of the wonders of the Ancient World, the world's largest brick arch was built in the third century BC).

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