1. Baghdad

Baghdad is the capital of Iraq.

The population of Baghdad, as of 2016, is approximately 8,765,000, making it the largest city in Iraq, the 2nd largest city in the Arab world (after Cairo, Egypt), and the 2nd largest city in Western Asia (after Tehran, Iran).

Located along the Tigris River, the city was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate:

Within a short time of its inception, Baghdad evolved into a significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual centre for the Islamic world.

This, in addition to housing several key academic institutions (e.g., House of Wisdom), garnered the city a worldwide reputation as the "Centre of Learning".

Baghdad was the largest city of the Middle Ages for much of the Abbasid era, peaking at a population of more than a million.

The city was largely destroyed at the hands of the Mongol Empire in 1258, resulting in a decline that would linger through many centuries due to frequent plagues and multiple successive empires.

Shaheed Monument

With the recognition of Iraq as an independent state (formerly the British Mandate of Mesopotamia) in 1938, Baghdad gradually regained some of its former prominence as a significant centre of Arab culture.

In contemporary times, the city has often faced severe infrastructural damage, most recently due to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent Iraq War that lasted until December 2011.

In recent years, the city has been frequently subjected to insurgency attacks. The war had resulted in a substantial loss of cultural heritage and historical artefacts as well.

As of 2012, Baghdad was listed as one of the least hospitable places in the world to live, and was ranked by Mercer as the worst of 221 major cities as measured by quality-of-life.

2. Etymology

Hands of Victory arch

The name Baghdad is pre-Islamic, and its origin is disputed. The site where the city of Baghdad developed has been populated for millennia:

By the 8th century AD, several villages had developed there, including a Persian hamlet called Baghdad, the name which would come to be used for the Abbasid metropolis.

Arab authors, realizing the pre-Islamic origins of Baghdad's name, generally looked for its roots in Persian. They suggested various meanings, the most common of which was "bestowed by God".

Modern scholars generally tend to favour this etymology, which views the word as a compound of bagh = "god" and dād = "given", In Old Persian the first element can be traced to boghu and is related to Slavic bog "god", while the second can be traced to dadāti.

When the Abbasid caliph, al-Mansur (95 AH – 158 AH (714 AD – 6 October 775 AD)), founded a completely new city for his capital, he chose the name Madinat al-Salām or City of Peace:

This was the official name on coins, weights, and other official usage, although the common people continued to use the old name.

By the 11th century, "Baghdad" became almost the exclusive name for the world-renowned metropolis.

3. Foundation

Kādhimayn district,

After the fall of the Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty, the victorious Abbasid rulers wanted their own capital from which they could rule:

They chose a site north of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (and also just north of where ancient Babylon had once stood), and on 30 July 762 the caliph Al-Mansur commissioned the construction of the city. It was built under the supervision of the Barmakids (influential family).

Mansur believed that Baghdad was the perfect city to be the capital of the Islamic empire under the Abbasids. Mansur loved the site so much he is quoted saying:

“This is indeed the city that I am to found, where I am to live, and where my descendants will reign afterward".

The city's growth was helped by its excellent location, based on at least 2 factors:

1. it had control over strategic and trading routes along the Tigris, and
2. it had an abundance of water in a dry climate.

Water exists on both the north and south ends of the city, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply, which was very uncommon during this time.

Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Sassanians, which was located some 30 km to the south-east. Today, all that remains of Ctesiphon is the shrine town of Salman Pak, just to the south of Greater Baghdad. Ctesiphon itself had replaced and absorbed Seleucia, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire, which had earlier replaced the city of Babylon.

According to the traveller Ibn Battuta, Baghdad was one of the largest cities, not including the damage it has received. The residents are mostly Hanbali.

Baghdad is also home to the grave of Abu Hanīfā where there is a cell and a mosque above it. The Sultan of Baghdad, Abu Said Bahadur Khan (1305-1335), was a Tartar king who embraced Islamism.

In its early years, the city was known as a deliberate reminder of an expression in the Quran, when it refers to Paradise:

It took 4 years to build (764–768). Mansur assembled engineers, surveyors, and art constructionists from around the world to come together and draw up plans for the city.

Over 100,000 construction workers came to survey the plans; many were distributed salaries to start the building of the city.

July was chosen as the starting time because 2 astrologers believed that the city should be built under the sign of the lion, Leo. Leo is associated with fire and symbolises productivity, pride, and expansion.

The bricks used to make the city were 18 inches (460 mm) on all 4 sides.

Abu Hanīfā was the counter of the bricks and he developed a canal, which brought water to the work site for both human consumption and the manufacture of the bricks.

Marble was also used to make buildings throughout the city, and marble steps led down to the river's edge.

The basic framework of the city consists of 2 large semicircles about 19 km in diameter.

The city was designed as a circle about 2 km (1.2 mi) in diameter, leading it to be known as the "Round City".

The original design shows a single ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring inside the first.

Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and promenades. In the centre of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. The purpose or use of the remaining space in the centre is unknown.

The circular design of the city was a direct reflection of the traditional Persian Sasanian urban design:

The Sasanian city of Gur in Fars, built 500 years before Baghdad, is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and the government buildings and temples at the centre of the city.

This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities are designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.

4. Surrounding walls

Abu Hanīfā Mosque

The 4 surrounding walls of Baghdad were named Kufa, Basra, Khorasan, and Syria; named because their gates pointed in the directions of these destinations.

The distance between these gates was a little less than 2.4 km. Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them.

The wall itself was about 44 m thick at the base and about 12 m thick at the top. Also, the wall was 30 m high, which included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures.

This wall was surrounded by another wall with a thickness of 50 m. The second wall had towers and rounded merlons, which surrounded the towers.

This outer wall was protected by a solid glacis, which is made out of bricks and quicklime. Beyond the outer wall was a water-filled moat.

5. Golden Gate Palace

The Golden Gate Palace, the residence of the caliph and his family, was in the middle of Baghdad, in the central square. In the central part of the building, there was a green dome that was 39 m high.

Surrounding the palace was an esplanade, a waterside building, in which only the caliph could come riding on horseback.

In addition, the palace was near other mansions and officer's residences. Near the Gate of Syria, a building served as the home for the guards. It was made of brick and marble. The palace governor lived in the latter part of the building and the commander of the guards in the front.

In 813, after the death of caliph Al-Amin (787-813), the palace was no longer used as the home for the caliph and his family.

The 2 designers who were hired by al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht, a Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a Jew from Khorasan, Iran.

6. Abbasids and the round city

The justification for the Abbasid Caliphate was based on the Abbasids being the descendants of the uncle of Muhammad and being part of the Quraysh tribe.

They used Shia resentment, Khorasanian movement, and appeals to the ambitions and traditions of the newly conquered Persian aristocracy to overthrow the Umayyads.

The Abbasids sought to combine the hegemony of the Arab tribes with the imperial, court, ceremonial, and administrative structures of the Persians. The Abbasids considered themselves the inheritors of Arab-Islamic culture.

Harun al-Rashid (763-809) needed to place the capital in a place that was representative of Arab-Islamic identity and built the House of Wisdom, where ancient texts were translated from their original language, such as Greek, to Arabic.

Al-Ma’mūn (786-833) is credited with the "Translation Movement" for this.

7. Centre of learning (8th - 13th centuries)

Mausoleum of Abdul-Qadir Gilani

Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce.

Bayt al-Hikmah or the "House of Wisdom” initially founded as a library for private use by Harun al-Rashid (763-809),

flourished into an unrivalled intellectual centre of science, medicine, philosophy, and education and had the largest selection of books in the world by the middle of the 9th century.

Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it tied with Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak.

Many of the One Thousand and One Nights tales, widely known as the Arabian Nights, are set in Baghdad during this period.

Among the notable features of Baghdad during this period were its exceptional libraries.

Many of the Abbasid caliphs were patrons of learning and enjoyed collecting both ancient and contemporary literature.

Although some of the princes of the previous Umayyad dynasty had begun to gather and translate Greek scientific literature, the Abbasids were the first to foster Greek learning on a large scale.

Many of these libraries were private collections intended only for the use of the owners and their immediate friends, but the libraries of the caliphs and other officials soon took on a public or a semi-public character.

4 great libraries were established in Baghdad during this period:

1) The earliest was that of the famous Al Ma’mūn, who was caliph from 813-833.

2) Another was established by Sabur ibn Ardashir (942-1025) in 991 or 993 for the literary men and scholars who frequented his academy.

Unfortunately, this second library was plundered and burned by the Seljuks only 70 years after it was established. This was a good example of the sort of library built up out of the needs and interests of a literary society.

The last 2 were examples of madrasa or theological college libraries:

3) The Nizamiyyah was founded by the Persian Nizam al-Mulk (1018-1092), who was vizier of 2 early Seljuk sultans. It continued to operate even after the coming of the Mongols in 1258.

4) The Mustansiriya madrasa, which owned an exceedingly rich library, was founded by al-Mustansir (1192- 1242), the 2nd last Abbasid caliph. This would prove to be the last great library built by the caliphs of Baghdad.

8. End of the Abbasids in Baghdad

By the 10th century, the city's population was between 1.2 million and 2 million. Baghdad's early meteoric growth eventually slowed due to troubles within the Caliphate, including:

=> relocations of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892),

=> the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and

=> periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135).

The Seljuks were a clan of the Oghuz Turks from Central Asia that converted to the Sunni branch of Islam. In 1040, they destroyed the Ghaznavids, taking over their land

and in 1055, Tughril Beg (990-1063), the leader of the Seljuks, took over Baghdad.

The Seljuks expelled the Buyid dynasty of Shiites that had ruled for some time and took over power and control of Baghdad.

They ruled as Sultans in the name of the Abbasid caliphs (they saw themselves as being part of the Abbasid regime). Tughril Beg saw himself as the protector of the Abbasid Caliphs.

Sieges and wars in which Baghdad was involved are listed below:

=> Siege of Baghdad (812–813), Fourth Fitna (Caliph’s Civil War)
=> Siege of Baghdad (865), Abbasid Civil War (865–866)
=> Battle of Baghdad (946), Buyid–Hamdanid War
=> Siege of Baghdad (1157), Abbasid–Seljuk Wars
=> Siege of Baghdad (1258), Mongol conquest of Baghdad
=> Siege of Baghdad (1401), by Tamerlane
=> Capture of Baghdad (1534), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
=> Capture of Baghdad (1623), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
=> Siege of Baghdad (1625), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
=> Capture of Baghdad (1638), Ottoman–Safavid Wars
=> Fall of Baghdad (1917), World War I
=> 1941 Iraqi coup d'état, World War II
=> Battle of Baghdad (2003), United States invasion of Iraq

In 1058, Baghdad was captured by the Fatimids under the Turkish general Abu'l-Ḥārith Arslān al-Basasiri, an adherent of the Ismailis along with the Uqaylid Quraysh.

Not long before the arrival of the Seljuks in Baghdad, al-Basasiri petitioned to the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir (1192- 1242) to support him in conquering Baghdad on the Ismaili Imam's behalf.

It has recently come to light that the famed Fatimid Da'i, al-Mu'ayyad al-Shirazi (1000-1078), had a direct role in supporting al-Basasiri and helped the general to succeed in taking Mosul, Wāsit and Kufa.

Soon after, by December 1058, a Shia Adhan (call to prayer) was implemented in Baghdad and a Khutbah (sermon) was delivered in the name of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph.

Despite his Shia inclinations, Al-Basasiri received support from Sunnis and Shias alike, for whom opposition to the Seljuk power was a common factor.

On 10 February 1258, Baghdad was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu Khan (1218- 1265), a grandson of Genghis Khan, during the siege of Baghdad:

Many quarters were ruined by fire, siege, or looting. The Mongols massacred most of the city's inhabitants, including the caliph Al-Musta'sim (1213-1258), and destroyed large sections of the city. The canals and dykes forming the city's irrigation system were also destroyed.

During this time, in Baghdad, Christians and Shia were tolerated, while Sunnis were treated as enemies.

The sack of Baghdad put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate.

It has been argued that this marked an end to the Islamic Golden Age and served a blow from which Islamic civilisation never fully recovered.

At this point, Baghdad was ruled by the Ilkhanate, a breakaway state of the Mongol Empire, ruling from Iran.

In 1401, Baghdad was again sacked, by the Central Asian Turkic conqueror Timur ("Tamerlane") (1336-1405). When his forces took Baghdad, he spared almost no one, and ordered that each of his soldiers bring back 2 severed human heads.

Baghdad became a provincial capital controlled by the Mongol Jalairid (1400–1411), Turkic Kara Koyunlu (1411–1469), Turkic Ak Koyunlu (1469–1508), and the Iranian Safavid (1508–1534) dynasties.

9. Ottoman era (16th - 19th centuries)

In 1534, Baghdad was captured by the Ottoman Turks.

Under the Ottomans, Baghdad continued into a period of decline, partially as a result of the enmity between its rulers and Iranian Safavids, which did not accept the Sunni control of the city.

In 1623-1638, it returned to Iranian rule before falling back into Ottoman hands.

Baghdad has suffered severely from visitations of the plague and cholera, and sometimes 2/3 of its population has been wiped out.

For a time, Baghdad had been the largest city in the Middle East. The city saw relative revival in the latter part of the 18th century under a Mamluk government.

Direct Ottoman rule was re-imposed by Ali Riza Pasha in 1831.

From 1851-1852 and from 1861-1867, Baghdad was governed, under the Ottoman Empire by Mehmed Namik Pasha (1804 – 1892).

The Nuttall Encyclopaedia reports the 1907 population of Baghdad as 185,000.

10. 20th - 21st centuries

Baghdad and southern Iraq remained under Ottoman rule until 1917, when captured by the British during World War I.

In 1920, Baghdad became the capital of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia and after receiving independence in 1932, the capital of the Kingdom of Iraq.

The city's population grew from an estimated 145,000 in 1900 to 580,000 in 1950. During the Mandate, Baghdad's substantial Jewish community comprised a quarter of the city's population.

On 1 April 1941, members of the "Golden Square" and Rashid Ali al-Gaylani (1892-1965) staged a coup in Baghdad. Rashid Ali installed a pro-German and pro-Italian government to replace the pro-British government of Regent Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz (1913-1958) .

On 31 May, after the resulting Anglo-Iraqi War and after Rashid Ali and his government had fled, the Mayor of Baghdad surrendered to British and Commonwealth forces.

On 14 July 1958, members of the Iraqi Army, under Abd Al-Karīm Qāsim (1914-1963), staged a coup to topple the Kingdom of Iraq:

King Faisal II, former Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, former Regent Prince Abd al-Ilah, members of the royal family, and others were brutally killed during the coup. Many of the victim's bodies were then dragged through the streets of Baghdad.

During the 1970s, Baghdad experienced a period of prosperity and growth because of a sharp increase in the price of petroleum, Iraq's main export.

New infrastructure including modern sewerage, water, and highway facilities were built during this period.

However, the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s was a difficult time for the city, as money was diverted by Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) to the army and thousands of residents were killed.

Iran launched a number of missile attacks against Baghdad in retaliation for Saddam Hussein's continuous bombardments of Tehran's residential districts.

In 1991 and 2003, the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused significant damage to Baghdad's transportation, power, and sanitary infrastructure as the US-led coalition forces launched massive aerial assaults in the city in the two wars.

Also in 2003, the minor riot in the city (which took place on 21 July) caused some disturbance in the population.

The historic "Assyrian Quarter" of the city, Dora, which boasted a population of 150,000 Assyrians in 2003, made up over 3% of the capital's Assyrian population then:

The community has been subject to kidnappings, death threats, vandalism, and house burnings by Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups. As of the end of 2014, only 1,500 Assyrians remained in Dora

11. Main sights

Points of interest include the National Museum of Iraq whose priceless collection of artefacts was looted during the 2003 invasion, and the iconic Hands of Victory arches. Multiple Iraqi parties are in discussions as to whether the arches should remain as historical monuments or be dismantled.

Thousands of ancient manuscripts in the National Library were destroyed under Saddam's command.

12. Mutanabbi Street

Mutanabbi Street is located near the old quarter of Baghdad; at Al Rasheed Street. It is the historic centre of Baghdadi book-selling, a street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. It was named after the 10th-century classical Iraqi poet Al-Mutanabbi (915-965 CE).

This street is well established for bookselling and has often been referred to as the heart and soul of the Baghdad literacy and intellectual community.

13. Baghdad Zoo

The Zoological Park used to be the largest in the Middle East:

Within 8 days following the 2003 invasion, however, only 35 of the 650 animals in the facility survived. This was a result of theft of some animals for human food, and starvation of caged animals that had no food.

South African Lawrence Anthony (1950-2012) and some of the zoo keepers cared for the animals and fed the carnivores with donkeys they had bought locally.

Eventually, L. Paul Bremer (born 1941), Director of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq from 11 May 2003 to 28 June 2004 ordered protection of the Zoo and U.S. engineers helped to reopen the facility.

14. Grand Festivities Square

Grand Festivities Square is the main square where public celebrations are held and is also the home to 3 important monuments commemorating Iraqi's fallen soldiers and victories in war; namely:

1) Al-Shahīd Monument, 2) the Victory Arch and 3) the Unknown Soldier's Monument.

15. Al-Shahīd Monument

Al-Shahīd Monument, also known as the Martyr's Memorial, is a monument dedicated to the Iraqi soldiers who died in the Iran–Iraq War:

However, now it is generally considered by Iraqis to be for all of the martyrs of Iraq, especially those allied with Iran and Syria currently fighting ISIS, not just of the Iran–Iraq War.

The Monument was opened in 1983, and was designed by the Iraqi architect Saman Kamal and the Iraqi sculptor and artist Ismail Fatah Al Turk (1934 -2004).

During the 1970s and 1980s, Saddam Hussein's government spent a lot of money on new monuments, which included the al-Shahīd Monument.

16. Qushla

Qushla (or Qishla, is a public square and the historical complex located in Rusafa neighbourhood at the riverbank of Tigris.

Qushla and its surroundings is where the historical features and cultural capitals of Baghdad are concentrated, from the Mutanabbi Street, Abbasid-era palace and bridges, Ottoman-era mosques to the Mustansiriya Madrasa.

The square developed during the Ottoman era as a military barracks. Today, it is a place where the citizens of Baghdad find leisure such as reading poetry in gazebos.

It is characterized by the iconic clock tower which was donated by George V. The entire area is currently submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative list.

17. Masjid of the Kādhimayn

Al-Kādhimiyyah Masjid is a shrine that is located in the Kādhimayn suburb of Baghdad. It contains the tombs of the 7th and 9th Twelver Shi'ite Imams, Mūsa al-Kādhim and Muhammad al-Taqī respectively, upon whom the title of Kādhimayn ("Two who swallow their anger") was bestowed.

Many Shi'ites travel to the mosque from faraway places to commemorate.

18. Masjid of Abu Hanīfā

Al-Adhamiyah is a predominantly Sunni area with a Masjid that is associated with the Sunni Imam Abu Hanīfā. The name of Al-Adhamiyah is derived from Abu Hanīfā’s title, al-Imām al-Adham (, the Great Imam).

19. Firdaus Square

Al-Firdaus Square is a public open space in Baghdad and the location of 2 of the best-known hotels, the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton Ishtar, which are both also the tallest buildings in Baghdad.

The square was the site of the statue of Saddam Hussein that was pulled down by U.S. coalition forces in a widely televised event during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

20. Geography

The city is located on a vast plain bisected by the Tigris river. The Tigris splits Baghdad in half, with the eastern half being called "Rusafa" and the Western half known as "Karkh".

The land on which the city is built is almost entirely flat and low-lying, being of alluvial origin due to the periodic large floods which have occurred on the river.

21. Climate

Baghdad has a subtropical desert climate, featuring extremely hot, dry summers and mild, damp winters:

In the Summer, from June through August, the average maximum temperature is as high as 44 °C (111 °F), accompanied by blazing sunshine.

Rainfall has, in fact, been recorded on fewer than half a dozen occasions at this time of year and has never exceeded 1 millimetre (0.04 in).

Even at night temperatures in summer are seldom below 24 °C (75 °F).

Baghdad's record highest temperature of 51 °C (124 °F) was reached in July 2015.

The humidity is typically under 50% in summer due to Baghdad's distance from the marshy southern Iraq and the coasts of Persian Gulf, and dust storms from the deserts to the west are a normal occurrence during the summer.

Winters boast temperatures typical of subtropical climates:

From December through February, Baghdad has maximum temperatures averaging 15.5 to 18.5 °C (59.9 to 65.3 °F), though highs above 21 °C (70 °F) are not unheard of.

The average January low is 3.8 °C (38.8 °F), but lows below freezing occur a couple of times per year on average.

Annual rainfall, almost entirely confined to the period from November through March, averages approximately 150 mm (5.91 in), but has been as high as 338 mm (13.31 in) and as low as 37 mm (1.46 in).

On 11 January 2008, light snow fell across Baghdad for the first time in memory.

22. Demographics

Baghdad's population was estimated at 7.22 million in 2015.

The city historically had a predominantly Sunni population, but by the early 21st century around 82% of the city's population were Iraqi Shia. At the beginning of the 21st century, some 1.5 million people migrated to Baghdad, most of them Shiites and a few Sunnis.

As early as 2003, about 20 % of the population of the city was the result of mixed marriages between Shia and Sunnis.

Following the sectarian violence in Iraq between the Sunni and Shia militia groups during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the city's population became overwhelmingly Shia. Despite the government's promise to resettle Sunnis displaced by the violence, little has been done to bring this about.

The Iraqi Civil War following ISIS invasion in 2014 caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqi internally displaced people to flee to the city.

The city currently has Sunni, Shia, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syrian, Armenian and mixed neighbourhoods.

23. Culture

Baghdad has always played a significant role in the broader Arab cultural sphere, contributing several significant writers, musicians and visual artists.

The dialect of Arabic spoken in Baghdad today differs from that of other large urban centres in Iraq, having features more characteristic of nomadic Arabic dialects:

It is possible that this was caused by the repopulating of the city with rural residents after the multiple sackings of the late Middle Ages.

24. Institutions

Some of the important cultural institutions in the city include the National Theatre, which was looted during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but efforts are underway to restore the theatre.

The live theatre scene received a boost during the 1990s, when UN sanctions limited the import of foreign films. As many as 30 movie theatres were reported to have been converted to live stages, producing a wide range of comedies and dramatic productions.

Institutions offering cultural education in Baghdad include The Music and Ballet School of Baghdad and the Institute of Fine Arts Baghdad.

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra is a government funded symphony orchestra in Baghdad:

The INSO plays primarily classical European music, as well as original compositions based on Iraqi and Arab instruments and music.

Baghdad is also home to a number of museums which housed artefacts and relics of ancient civilization; many of these were stolen, and the museums looted, during the widespread chaos immediately after United States forces entered the city.