A palace in the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon built under late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein offers visitors a trip from the past to the present day in the age-old region.
The palace, situated on a hill in the middle of the ancient city, was built during the economic embargo in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, and is now attracting renewed attention despite being recent neglect.
The gardens and green areas around the palace, which were built for families to sit in and spend time in, are now neglected by the local municipality. There is almost no life here, except for a few mobile food and drink sellers.
Not many people visit the ancient city, one of the favorite places of its time, except for social events.
Special date palm tree designs adorn the ceiling of this four-story palace. The walls of the palace are littered with drawings and writings, and there are shards of splendid chandeliers on the floor.
Headquarters for US forces in 2003-2011
Before 2003, people were not allowed to enter the palace or even approach it.
It is rumored that Hussein – who was executed by the state in 2006 – came to the palace, which reportedly took four years to build, only once.
From 2003 to 2011, US forces used the palace as their headquarters and did not allow citizens to visit it. Now, visitors to the ancient city can enter the palace and travel back in time to the 35 years Iraq was ruled by an iron fist.
Although Iraqi authorities wanted to make the palace a historic building or a local TV broadcasting center, these projects went unrealized due to disputes and rent conflicts between the country’s political parties.
Two weeks ago the ancient city hosted the International Babylon Festival for the first time since 2003. Arab singers and folk dance teams from abroad also took part in the five-day festival, which attracted great interest from Iraqis.
Babylon, situated some 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ancient city, whose history dates back about 4,000 years, is famous for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as well as the Hammurabi Obelisk and the Lion of Babylon.
The Babylon International Festival began in 1985 but was halted in 2003 due to the US invasion of Iraq and the deterioration of the country’s security situation in subsequent years.
* Writing by Seda Sevencan
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