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THE IRAQI SERIES, DAY 8 & 9

NAJAF – KARBALA 

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad. This morning we continued north from Karbala to Babylon, probably the most famous ancient city in the world.

FROM ISHTAR GATE TO THE HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON NO OTHER PALACE IN THE WORLD HAS SO MANY IMPORTANT LANDMARKS

May legends have walked through this city, such as Nebuchadnezzar II, Alexander The Great, Saddam Hussein and George W Bush…

WHERE IS BABYLON?

Babylon

BABYLON 

The ancient city of Babylon emerged around 2300 BCE and was remembered for it’s incredible structure and landmarks, including the Lion of Babylon, the Tower of Babylon and most notably the Hanging Gardens, often regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Ishtar Gate adorned with vibrant blue-glazed tiles, Babylon thrived as a center of innovation. Known for advanced irrigation and cultural achievements, Babylon’s influence endured through the ages despite facing conquests and eventual decline, leaving a lasting mark on human history that we still see to this day.

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

  FACTS ABOUT BABYLON:
  • Women in Babylonian society were relatively well treated. They could own property, run businesses, and even work in the legal system as judges. Women could also become priestesses and were highly respected in society. However, they were not allowed to participate in political affairs and equally were not required to go into battle
  • Babylon was home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his queen.
  • Saddam Hussein’s palace is an architectural masterpiece that testifies to the end of an era in Iraq’s history. The palace was built on the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, and caused severe damage to the ancient city of Akhnar. After the entry of the American forces in 2003, the American forces took the palace as their headquarters until their exit in 2011.

ALEXANDER THE GREAT 

Alexander the Great died in this very city just beside the northern palace. It was believed he had died from an illness rather than in battle, but at 32 he was known to be the the best military strategists the world had ever seen. He had begun his push for world domination at the age of just 20 when he succeeded his father as king and over the next 12 years created one of the largest empires in the world. I don’t know what you were doing at 20 but I was barely out of nappies!

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

REBUILD 

Saddam did his best to rebuild parts of the city but most of these works went against the terms of UNESCO. Not only did he try and build on top of the ruins but he also engraved his name into many of the bricks.

Regardless of where you are in the ancient city you can always see Saddam’s palace sitting high above the ruins. This was a habit of the old Babylonian kings who kept building their new palaces and kingdoms higher than the previous one.

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

DAILY INFO….

  • HOTEL – Shanashel Palace £80/night
  • ATTRACTIONS –
    Babylon
    Saddam’s Babylon Palace
    Bab Alagha Bakery
    Animal market, Baghdad
    Al-Mutanabbi Street
    Shabander Café
    Hajj Zballa Juice Shop
    Ctesiphon

REPRIMANDED 

As I was taking a video at the old site of the tower of Babylon a guard approached me and although he couldn’t speak English I knew I had to follow him. He mentioned (via my guide who was back at the car) that taking videos was not allowed which I could not understand. What made it even more bizarre was that filming from a phone is ok…

So from here we drove to the office and its times like these that having a guide pays dividends as we were able to formulate and plan of taking our absolute time to get there. The drive was probably half a km and took us 10minutes by the time I got my laptop out and moved all the footage onto the hard drive.

Arriving at the office we play dumb (easy for me) as you are not able to delete the footage or view it from my shitty camera, so we stood there in silence until the guard decided just to be done with it and let us go.

SADDAM’S PALACE 

This is something I have seen a lot of on Social Media and YouTube and it was great to finally be here. Perched at the top of a man made hill the palace overlooks the city of Babylon, not a bad view!

They say you are poor if you can touch your ceilings, well there was no danger of touching these ceilings, these rooms were incredible and unfortunately never actually used! As Saddam enjoyed the fear factor he made sure that no one knew when or if he was to arrive. Breakfast, lunch and dinner would be served everyday in all of his palaces regardless if he was there or not, what a man!

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

SWIMMING POOL 

Besides the initials engraved on the wall and the huge balconies Saddam also had a swimming pool built. A part of me in a strange way would love to see a ruthless dictator doing a breast stroke in a pair of budgy smugglers. Maybe I’ll get onto Ai for a laugh…

After Saddam, the palace was used as a military base for the US and once they left was looted and vandalised by the locals. There was no way the locals who were treated so poorly by their leader ever expected to be able to walk through his palace and do as they please, it sure showed what everyone really thought of him.

BAGHDAD BAKERY 

You’ll have already learned that Iraq doesn’t fu*k around when it comes to creating a generation of diabetics and as I am always keen to experience the local way of life, we stopped by the famous Bab Alagha Bakery. I have never tried food that could melt my teeth! Even Ali the driver struggled to finish the cake he bought – he doesn’t mess around! Why in the west have we got Dunkin Donuts and not these options?

DAY 9 – BAGHDAD’S ANIMAL MARKET 

Finally back in Baghdad it was time to check out the city properly over the next few days starting with the animal market. Besides the usual rabbits, fish and dogs the main attraction was the 4 hawks feeding on their daily diet of chicken guts…

Heading across the famous Tigris river we headed to the famous Al-Mutanabbi Street, the poetry & literature centre of the Iraq and eventually to Iraq’s most famous café, Shabander Café. I appreciate this is the literature capital of the country since the 8th century but I did not expect a couple of young locals to teach me how to say F*g and Fu*k in Arabic!

BAGHDAD’S MOST TRAGIC STORY 

This café is an institution in Iraq and has a bit of a heart-breaking story. In March 2010 a car bomb exploded outside the front door killing 100 people. The owner who was on a break at the time lost his wife, four sons and a grandson. At this point of the story all my problems seem to disappear. But he didn’t stop there, he rebuilt the café in memory of this family and continues to work in it every day, what a man. Its worth noting that he is not the only one in Iraq with stories like this…

THE ONLY PHOTO OF SADDAM 

Another famous establishment in Baghdad is the Hajj Zballa Juice Shop, who has been selling juice drinks decades before it was trendy. They have two choices which is ideal as we all know there’s nothing worse than standing behind someone who can’t make up their mind (the choice paradox tedtalk incredible btw).

But apart from their amazing drinks, the shop is home to many images of famous past clients, none more recognisable than Saddam himself. Normal practice would be to take it down but the owner has since told anyone who requested this to politely do one…stick to your guns kid!

Photos inside juice shop in Iraq. Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

CTESIPHON 

Ctesiphon is an old Iranian city back when Iraq didn’t exist and in some accounts listed as the world’s biggest city at the time. However, all that remains is the arch and even at 1,400 years, remains the largest brick arch in the world. Whether it’s building arches or pouring sugar in their tea, people in this region do not do things by half!!

David Simpson at Liberation square in Iraq. Saddam’s Palace & old town Baghdad

BAGHDAD HOME COOKED MEAL 

This is another perfect example of Iraqi hospitality. During my time in the Marshlands I had exchanged numbers with a local who was keen to meet up in Baghdad for dinner a few days later. Well…what a spread they put on. To think that someone would invite an absolute rando from another country into their house and prepare a enough food for 10 people just blows my mind!

TODAY’S YOUTUBE VIDEOS

If you want to see today from a different perspective, and catch a few different stories from the front row, then check out today’s YouTube videos below.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You know you are getting old when you are looking forward to spending two nights in the same hotel!!

NEXT UP

Eating Baghdads highest calorie breakfast and then to Iraq’s most dangerous region, Al Anbar!! Click to read.

SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
160/229

This post is part of The Iraqi Series, for the entire series click here or for episode 1, click here.

To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.

Question Time

  • Do you enjoy military history?
  • Would you try street food in Iraq?

Let me know in the comments below . . .

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WORLD’S LARGEST CEMETERY & SWEETS
A TOUR AROUND BAGHDAD & THE AL ANBAR

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