At first glance the Babylon site is a strange Disneyland vision of what Babylon ought to look like, with impossibly pristine new brickwork and fanciful towers and ramparts. Just as though some Wizard has cast a magical “rebuild” spell. But much of this fanciful reconstruction is built on original foundations. Our site guide pointed at various pieces of the lowest levels of the walls as original, including the now mostly buried upper arches of old gates. But while the bricks may be original, even those sections had clearly suffered extensive reconstruction and renovation.
We started at a small scale replica of the original Ishtar Gate. This is good fun, but it’s a surprisingly low quality painted brick affair and is not a fair advert for the very impressive (albeit aggressively restored) original version now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Then we moved to the heavily renovated original gate foundations, mixing old and new bricks.
The grand Processional Way is mostly new, but includes a few old bricks, some with the original Babylonian cuneiform stamps. The embossed brickwork dragons and lions are entirely modern, plain replicas of the colorful glaze brickwork originals now mostly in Berlin.
Many larger interior sections are similarly reimagined, with a grand new temple and several vast rambling palaces. But, at least in theory, this is all rebuilt on the original site groundwork. To add even more confusion, some of the surviving original brickwork sections have been given modern overlays to both protect and prettify them. We saw one spot where the modern plaster had peeled away, revealing ancient bricks.
We entered one section that was supposedly a reconstruction of a defensive maze. Here occasional bricks are grandly stamped in Arabic with Saddam Hussein’s name.
On a rise next to the site is one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, with good views over the Euphrates. This is a finely built palace, now much decayed, with grand reception rooms, now vandalized and covered with Arabic graffiti. Two of the bigger rooms had been adopted as convenient skating rinks by groups of in-line skaters.
I’m traveling in Iraq on a private tour with Babel Tours. It’s been good fun. I recommend it! (Tour notes.)