i recently returned from leading a tour in iraq with lupine travel, so thought i would post a quick blog on things to do in iraq.
i arrived early to wander around on my own and do some research on potential sights.
my first stop was visiting one of the unfinished mosques from saddam hussein’s era. it was supposed to be one of the largest mosques in the world and built in the style of the taj mahal, but construction halted at the start of the 2003 invasion.
it now sites in limbo since they are unable to complete it due to the cost and association with saddam. and since it is a mosque it cannot be torn down.
above is the save iraqi culture monument built in 2010 which is quite an interesting sculpture. and below i found a random double-decker bus near the baghdad railway station. a few of the other sights i tried to get to were closed off to visitors unfortunately.
it is no surprise that the highlight of baghdad is the iraqi national museum. it is famous for being looted during the 2003 invasion, but it is slowly being rebuilt. many artefacts are being shipped back to the museum for display.
for a food/market vibe, head over to al-mutanabbi and al-rasheed streets for kubbah or tea at the shabander cafe. for dessert i went to al faqma which was yum.
i love how guilt free ice cream is when you are travelling tehehe…
tahrir square (liberation square) is a focal point of the city and a key site for protests and celebrations over the years.
everytime i visited it had a different personality to it. sometimes it was heavily guarded to prevent protests. another time there were a series of small local groups protesting. and on friday evening after prayer it was filled with families enjoying the fountains.
i really loved the vibe in baghdad. i managed to find an irish pub called… yep… you guessed it… “irish pub”.
and a local nightclub which was an odd experience… i would describe it more as a “cabaret” than a dance club… i wasn’t allowed to take pics so i’ll leave you with this nice pic of someone making falafels.
baghdad day trips
around baghdad there are a lot of great day trips. first up was the persian era arc of ctesiphon (taq qasra). it was built between the 3rd and 6th centuries and was the largest single span brick arch at one time.
nearby was the modern ruins of an old hotel and museum that was also looted in 2003. we were able to climb the tower which had great views of the area.
also just outside of baghdad is the dur-kurigalzu (known locally as aqar quf).
it is an ancient mesopotamian city from the kassite/babylonian era highlighted by the famous ziggurat.
samara is a full day trip away from baghdad but worth it to see the spiral minarets.
samara is controlled by the peace brigade – an armed militia which now manages security in the area.
there are (unsurprisingly) endless checkpoints, but as everywhere in iraq, there is always time to make tea.
we were not able to climb the main malwiya minaret, but we were able to climb the slightly smaller spiral minaret, abu dulaf.
but this was honestly unconfortably terrifying. slanty stairs, wind, no rails, my poor balance… i did not enjoy it at all.
leaving baghdad we headed south to babylon.
the ancient city of babylon, the mythical hanging gardens, the tower of babel, the rebuilt ishtar gate… wow.
the are plenty of dedicated historical websites out there, so i won’t bore you with more another one…
but it goes without saying that this area is one of the most important historic sights in the world. this was a truly epic travel day and a real highlight for me.
saddam hussein’s abandoned palace
here are some pics of saddam hussein’s abandoned palace.
because you can never have too many pics of abandoned places…
good. that was fun. and now for something completely different.
karbala and najaf
after mecca and medina, karbala and najaf contain 2 of the holiest sites in the shia religion.
the battle of karbala is where the grandson of the prophet and his family were killed and has become an important annual pilgrimage for shia muslims.
the imam ali shrine in najaf contains the tomb of ali ibn ali talib, who was the prophets companion, cousin and son-in-law.
millions of pilgrims visit these sites each year and also seek to be buried close to the imam ali shrine, making the wadi al-salam cemetery in najaf the biggest in the world.
leaving the area and heading south we quickly stopped in nearby nasiriyah and visited the ziggurat of ur – a famous sumerian archaeological site.
and now for the marshes.
there are so many tragic stories in iraq’s history. the marshes are no exception.
the mesopotamian marshes covered an area of 20,000 square kilometers on a flood plain between the tigris and euphrates rivers.
this area had been occupied for over 5000 years, but in the 1950’s this was gradually reduced to make way for agricultural land and oil exploration.
it gets worse. in the 1990’s, saddam hussein started systematically draining this unesco site as retaliation for marsh arabs uprising against him. marsh levels were reduced to less than 90% of their former levels.
thanfully, since the end of the iraq war, the marshes have slowly started to come back. although climate change and drought the past few years have caused more issues.
no trip to iraq should be without a visit here.
heading towards basra, you can see where the tigris and euphrates rivers meet. really cool. and nearby is the supposed tree of knowledge from the garden of eden. um ok. sure it is.
i’m not gonna lie… i’m running out of steam here… almost done.
in basra was a cool museum housed in saddam hussein’s palace that has been nicely renovated.
and the newly unesco-ified basra old town is also being rebuilt.
saddam’s abandoned yacht
and last but definitely not least…
exploring saddam hussein’s abandoned yacht…
i can’t believe we made it on board. wow. what a way to end an amazing trip.
and because you made it this far… one more random bonus photo that i couldn’t leave out, but i didn’t know where to put…