Culture

Campaign to clear world heritage site in Babylon, Iraq

Iraq

In preparation for UNESCO's visit to the ancient city of Babylon near Hilla, Iraq, the world heritage site is being cleaned from trash and military remnants.The Babylonian Theatre gardens and the gardens that face the front of the Temple of Ishtar are some of the main sites that were cleaned ahead of the visit.

A campaign has been launched in the city of Babil in Iraq to clean the Babylon Cultural Landscape and Archaeological city before the UNESCO visit to Iraq. The UNESCO team will be assessing Iraq’s adherence to the instructions that the organisation has issued to include Babylon in the World Heritage List.

Iraq currently has five sites that have been included in the World Heritage List, the last being the Ahwar Marshlands in southern Iraq, which was included in 2016. Iraq also has 11 sites which have been nominated and added to the UNESCO’s tentative list.

Amongst these 11 sites is the ancient city of Babylon which was historically the capital of King Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar II’s empire. The city’s excavation began in 1811 and continued until 1917 when German archaeologists transferred hundreds of excavated pieces back to Germany. As a result, the Ishtar Gate, the historical entrance to the city of Babylon, has been reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. During Saddam’s rule, the city of Babylon also saw many restoration projects, many of which displayed Saddam Hussein as the inheritor of Nebuchadnezzar’s legacy.

After the 2003 invasion, the city of Babylon has mostly been neglected and damaged due to the occupying forces and the mismanagement of the local government. Despite the city being officially reopened to the public, access to the city is limited.

Recently, activists and academics in the province are pushing for the site to be recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site. For a nominated site to officially be included in the World Heritage List, UNESCO requires the site to meet specific requirements.

As a result, the local authorities in the city of Babil have launched the initiative to clean the city and remove the military remnants found there ahead of the UNESCO delegation’s visit to Babylon. “[The campaign involves the] cleaning of the city entrances as well as the city by lifting the remnants of the armed presence from the city centre,” said Hussein al-Ammar, the head of the Babylon archaeological city. The campaign involved volunteers and workers from various departments, each designated a specific task. The cleaning campaign included the fixing of the lighting systems and the relocation of the police checkpoints and concrete blocks. “There are old military remnants that we have removed, using our lifting tools and machinery,” said First Lieutenant Atheer Ibrahim from the Babil Police Force.

Many campaigns to get Iraqi sites on UNESCO’s tentative list into the World Heritage List have been launched. In early 2018, UNESCO representatives announced that they would be coordinating with other international organisations to restore cultural heritage sites in the city of Mosul, in the hope of one day including them in the World Heritage List.

Amongst the tentative list is the ancient city of Nimrud, which was partially destroyed by ISIS during their rule over Mosul. Despite facing heavy damages, archaeologists have discovered many untouched priceless artifacts beneath the rubble of the destroyed sections of the city of Nimrud.