In May, I had the rare opportunity to take a drive down to Babil province to help my team prepare for a conference which we would be hosting in the days following. I spent three days in the provincial capital, Hilla, and though I wasn't allowed out much, I did get to see some things on the ride down, and during my visit to the ruins, and the conference site.
|Roadside signs on the road to Al-Hilla|
The drive is most definitely done in an armored convoy, and though we left early in the morning, and in the middle of the week, the 62 mile drive still took about two and a half hours. And when wearing body armor (thankfully no helmet!), it's pretty exhausting. There were, however, a few things to look at on the way:
Mesopotamia means, "the land between the rivers." In this case, we're talking about the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, two of the most iconic rivers in human history and the reason that this area was once known as the Fertile Crescent. These two rivers still flow through Iraq, and provide water for animals and crops, and one of the primary economic drivers in Babil province is agriculture. The majority of residents in the province are engaged in some form of agricultural work. I think that much of the farming is still practiced in the ancient way. I managed to catch an example of some of the produce on the drive. Also note the vast number of palm trees. These trees produce dates, one of the most nutritious foods, and which I find to be incredibly tasty, especially when stuffed with walnuts. I'm so happy that date season is upon us. I can't wait until they're ripened, dried and stuffed!
|Men unloading cucumbers for sale. Also shown: Watermelons, and other fruits.|
|A man walks down the street|
|The best picture of Hammurabi I was able to get|
|It's shown backwards here, but the Iraqi flag reads, Allahu Akbar, which means, God is Great in Arabic|
|Me on the bank of the River at the Conference Site|
I had the opportunity to tour the house as well, which was once occupied by the US Army. The walls inside are now covered with graffiti. On the outside, you can see that Saddam left his mark pretty much everywhere. Above and below, you find the slightly stylized Arabic letters, 'sad' and 'hah,' the initials of Saddam Hussein, mixed into the decorative carvings in the walls.
|Wondering why this tree has steps and a wall? Supposedly this was Saddam's tree-- the one of thousands which he planted himself.|
|Saddam also had pictures of himself and reliefs of his so-called greatness carved onto the walls.|
|Me in Saddam's bedroom.|
|A Mural of the great buildings and peoples of Iraq, on the palace ceiling.|
|The layout of ancient Babylon|
This is the picture you've been waiting for, right? Me at the gate of the Goddess Ishtar. The ruins of Ancient Babylon are no longer a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the damage that Saddam Hussein did to the site during the "restoration" of the ruins. Many of the best pieces of the city are now in the major museums of the world.
This is not an original, but more like what they might have looked like -- glazed ceramic in bright blue. And what they looked like when I saw some of the original pieces more lovingly cared for in Istanbul. They were beautiful, right?
I also got a rare treat: a trip inside the Nebuchadnezzar Museum, with a guided tour from the curator, who I am pretty sure didn't think that I was the VIP of the visit, since he only seemed interested in talking to my South African security detail.