The "Gate of God" (from the Greek word babel) was the site of one of the first important civilizations of the world (2350-322 BC). The ancient capital, where King Nebuchadnezzar lived and Alexander the Great died, was home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Begin with a walk along Procession Street (the ancient main drag) to the Lion of Babylon (stone monument of a lion originally found in the North Fortress). Unfortunately, the Babylon Museum was trashed by looters after the war, but many pieces have been recovered and it is open to tour groups.

Other sites include the Temple of Nin Makh; the Temple of Marduk; the Temple Tower of Babylon (some think this was the original site of the Tower of Babel); the impressive Greek Theater; the Central and Northern fortresses; Nebuchadnezzar's Southern Palace (where the "writing on the wall" took place and the Hanging Gardens are believed to have been located); and the reconstructed Ishtar Gate—it's half the size of the original. (A controversial US$25 million reconstruction of the Southern Palace and the Ishtar Gate was done in the late 1980s; the soddy construction of that job damaged some of the older sections, but the rebuilt palace and gate are worth seeing.) You would need a full day or two to visit these places.

Other archaeological sites include the city of Kish (10 mi/16 km east of Babylon), claimed to be the first empire in history following the Great Flood (Sumerian Palace, temples, and the library and its clay tablets); Borsippa (12 mi/19 km south of Babylon), with its 150-ft-/45-m-high remains of a ziggurat that is also thought to be the Tower of Babel; Karbala; and Ukhaidir Castle (an impressive red stone palace). Babylon is located 55 mi/90 km south of Baghdad.

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