Little Bits of History

July 30

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 30, 2017

762: The ceremonial first brick is laid. The Umayyad Caliphate was defeated by the Abbasid, the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the prophet Muhammad. They descended from Muhammad’s youngest uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. Their capital was first located in Kufa, but Al-Mansur wished to move it. He had royal astrologers seek for the best and most auspicious day to undertake the creation of the new capital city. On this day, Baghdad’s construction began. The name predates Islam and the region had been populated for millennia but by this time, the people were living in scattered small villages. Baghdad was one of the small villages for the Persian residents.

Mansur originally called his new capital Madinat al-Salaam or City of Peace. While this official name was inscribed on official documents and coinage, the locals called their city Baghdad and by the 11th century, the original name had disappeared. Mansur planned the city before construction began and erected massive brick walls with a circumference of four miles and rising up from the Tigris River. Mansur’s Round City walls had 162,000 bricks on each round for the first one-third of the 80 foot high wall and 150,000 bricks per round on the middle third with 140,000 bricks on the top third. They were bonded together with bundles of reeds and crowned with battlements and included a deep moat ringing the outer wall.

Thousands of workers, skilled and unskilled, came together to build the new city. This was the largest construction project in the Islamic world and it is though over 100,000 people worked – planning, designing, engineering, making the bricks, digging the trenches, and actually building the innovative design. Four straight roads led from the center of city to outer gates and these were the main shopping districts. Smaller roads led off these major roadways and people were able to build houses there. The center of the city was maintained as a royal preserve. The city was completed in 766 and it was considered at the time and for centuries afterward as a work of art and engineering genius.

Today, Baghdad is the capital of the Republic of Iraq. There are almost 9 million living there making it the largest city in Iraq and second largest in the Arab world (Cairo, Egypt is larger). The city has spread beyond the original walled area and today covers 78.8 square miles. The city has been in the crosshairs of warring factions many times throughout its long history. The Seljuk Turks overran the city in 1055 and later the city often was involved in Ottoman Empire conflicts. The Ottomans lost rule to the British in 1917 and became independent in 1932. The city’s growth has exploded in the last century as it has modernized with funding available from the petroleum industries. The last major conflict in the region was the Gulf War and in 2003, the city came under attack and suffered great damage.

I miss aspects of being in the Arab world – the language – and there is a tranquility in these cities with great rivers. Whether it’s Cairo or Baghdad, you sit there and you think, ‘This river has flown here for thousands of years.’ There are magical moments in these places. – Zaha Hadid

Today’s message to Baghdad is very clear: the UN Security Council resolution expresses the unity and determination of the entire international community to assume its collective responsibility. – Javier Solana

I stayed in Baghdad every summer until I was 14. My dad’s sister is still there, but many of my relatives have managed to get out. People forget that there are still people there who are not radicalized in any particular direction, trying to live normal lives in a very difficult situation. – Andy Serkis

Only the long melancholy call to prayer, or the wail of women over the dead, or the barking of dogs, breaks the silence which at sunset falls as a pall over Baghdad. – Isabella Bird

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