Babylon in Iraq is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. A Mesopotamian capital that flourished for centuries, it was home to Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) who introduced the world’s first known set of laws, and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.) who built the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Time has taken its toll, and so has the modern world. Saddam Hussein decided to rebuild Babylon with modern bricks inscribed with his name, right atop the original walls.
Then came the war to topple him. An American military base was established at Babylon that was soon taken over by Polish troops. A British Museum report on damage to Babylon states that large areas of the site were leveled in order to make a parking lot, roads and areas for tents and bunkers.
Trenches were also dug to give protection to the soldiers. Many of the countless sandbags around the base were filled with soil from the archaeological site. The Ishtar Gate, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image, suffered significant damage.
Now saline water is leaching into the area, eroding the ancient brick, and three oil pipelines pass right through Babylon.
Despite this, Iraqi archaeologists are applying to get Babylon on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Because of the extensive damage to the site and Saddam’s “reconstruction,” UNESCO has turned down previous applications – twice.
Now Iraq is trying a new tactic. The proposal now includes the historical significance of the Saddam and Coalition eras. Babylon saw many periods of occupation, after all, and these are the two latest. It’s an interesting tactic and if it works, Babylon would attract more serious efforts from the Iraqi and other governments to preserve one of humanity’s great ancient cities.