Iraq’s Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site - GulfToday

Iraq’s Babylon designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

Iraqi city Babylon 1

A man walks in front of Ishtar Gate at the archaeological site of Babylon, Iraq. File photo/AP

The ancient city of Babylon, from the 23rd century B.C., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Friday, after a vote that followed decades of lobbying by Iraq.

The vote, at a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in Azerbaijan's capital Baku, made the ancient Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River the sixth world heritage site within the borders of a country known as a cradle of civilization.

"Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity's memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said the city, now an archaeological ruin, was returned to its "rightful place" in history after years of neglect by previous leaders.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also welcomed the news.

"Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity's memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history," he said.

"Babylon is the largest populated city in ancient history," said Qahtan al-Abeed, who heads the Basra Antiquities Department and led efforts to get the site listed.

The government said it would allocate funds to maintain and boost conservation efforts.

Babylon, about 85 kilometres (55 miles) south of Baghdad, was once the centre of a sprawling empire, renowned for its towers and mudbrick temples. Its hanging gardens were one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Visitors can stroll through the remnants of the brick and clay structures which stretch across 10 square kilometres, and see the famed Lion of Babylon statue, as well as large portions of the original Ishtar Gate.

"This is very important, because Babylon will now be a protected site," said Marina al-Khafaji, a local who was hopeful the designation would boost tourism and the local economy.

It would allow for further exploration and research, said Makki Mohammad Farhoud, 53, a tour guide at the site for more than 25 years.


Iraqis celebrate after UNESCO designated ancient city of Babylon as World Heritage Site.

"Babylon is the blood that runs through my veins, I love it more than I love my children," he said.

DECADES OF NEGLECT

Excavations of what was once the largest city in the world, began in the early 19th century by European archaeologists, who removed many artefacts.

Many inscriptions written by soldiers can still be seen on the ancient bricks. 

"Babylon is the largest populated city in ancient history," said Qahtan al-Abeed, who heads the Basra Antiquities Department and led efforts to get the site listed.

"The Babylonians were the civilisation of writing, administration and science," he told AFP.

Putting Babylon on the World Heritage List "will encourage research and development of the site," and would "be free publicity for tourists," he added excitedly.

Agencies