The ancient city of Babylon, also called Babel, lies within modern-day Iraq. Once ruled by Hammurabi and later Nebuchadnezzar, the ruins of the great city are considered sacred by those who lived nearby in the village of Qawarish. Then in the 1980s, as Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces were suffering from a long, drawn-out war with Iran, the Iraqi ruler decided to rebuild Babylon as a tribute to himself, complete with a palace, defensive walls, and a brick maze.
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Saddam siphoned millions into the rebuilding, and pushed to have the reconstruction built on the foundations of the original site. The project was not only nationalistic, but also narcissistic. “There was megalomania involved in that,” says Makiya. “Saddam wanted every Iraqi to know that he rebuilt Babylon. The point is that it’s not just an archaeological reconstruction of the city of Babylon for the sake of science and history and the past. It’s an idealization of that history for the purposes of the cementing of the legitimacy of the regime’s presence.”
His palace at Babylon is the clearest example of his hubris. It’s carved with Arabic calligraphy that at first glance resembles religious iconography, but upon closer appraisal reveals itself to be Saddam Hussein’s initials. Brutalist, hyper-realist reliefs depict him leading soldiers on the battlefield; the ceilings are painted with symbols of Iraqi civilization, ranging from Babylonian lions to towers that Saddam built in Baghdad.
So what happened to Saddam’s new Babylon? Find out from a lifetime resident of Qawarish, at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: Pesha Magid)