We will talk to you about the city that has been the center of science, culture, and trade in the Islamic world for centuries, situated on both banks of the Tigris River. From the history of its name to its significant structures and what famous travelers had to say about it, you’ll find a lot of important information in this article. Of course, the city we’re referring to is Baghdad. Enjoy the read! 🙂
Capital Commanding the Tigris River
Baghdad is built on both sides of the Tigris River, strategically located right in the heart of Iraq. To better understand where Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is located, let’s also touch on Iraq’s geographical position. Iraq is a country in Western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest, and Syria to the west.
The Origin of the Name Baghdad
The name Baghdad is composed of the Persian words “bag,” meaning “God,” and “dād,” meaning “given.” It is generally accepted to mean “God’s gift” or “God’s bestowal.” The city has been known by different names throughout history. For instance, it was called Bagdasa before the Common Era. During the Abbasid period, it was referred to as “Medinetu’s-Selam,” meaning “City of Peace” or “City of Paradise,” signifying a city of heaven and tranquility.
Around 1400 Years of Islamic Domination
City with the Grand Mosque at Its Center
The city, conquered by Muslims in 634, has been under Islamic rule since then. The Islamic reign over the city is closely intertwined with Islamic history. The birth of Islamic history is considered to be in the year 610, and Baghdad’s association with Islam dates back to 634.
Cultural Richness of Mesopotamia Here
Founded in 1926 as the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, the Iraqi National Museum houses extremely significant artifacts from civilizations that lived in the Mesopotamia region, spanning 5,000 years of history. However, the museum, which holds one of the world’s largest archaeological collections, was looted by the US Armed Forces in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq. Many artifacts were smuggled to different parts of the world. Following the uproar over the looting, UNESCO’s intervention led to the recovery and return of some of the stolen artifacts to the museum. Reopened in 2015, the Iraqi National Museum is a must-visit spot in Baghdad.
Iconic Structure of the City: Abbasid Palace
The Abbasid Palace, the only surviving structure from the Abbasid period, is a historical two-story building overlooking the Tigris River, boasting stunning architecture. Constructed in the 12th century by Abbasid Caliph Al-Nasir, this palace is among the most significant legacies of Arab-Islamic culture. Since 1963, it has served as the campus of Al-Mustansiriya University. With a spacious courtyard in the center, the two-story palace showcases captivating architecture adorned with arches.
With its Golden Dome and Minarets: Kazimeyn Mosque
Becoming a symbol of Kazimeyn, one of the city’s important centers, the Kazimeyn Mosque is one of the most famous historical structures in Baghdad. The mosque’s golden dome and minarets enhance its captivating beauty. The mosque also houses the tombs of Imam Musa al-Kazim and Imam Muhammad al-Jawad, who hold significant places in Shiite belief. Unfortunately, the mosque has suffered damage due to terrorist attacks multiple times. After restoration efforts in recent years, the mosque has reopened for visitors and remains one of the city’s must-see attractions.
Baghdad Through the Eyes of Ibn Battuta
In his travelogue about his visit to Baghdad in 1326, Ibn Battuta states: “This ancient city, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate and the center of invitation for Quraysh-origin imams, has seen its built structures ruined and only its name remains. It can be said that nothing has survived from its former state compared to the time before the savages extended their bloody swords to it. Apart from the Tigris, it has no remarkable beauty.”
Yet Ibn Battuta couldn’t refrain from also describing the same Baghdad in the same year as “a city of great honor and virtue, being the center of Islam, the capital of caliphs, and the abode of scholars.”
Baghdad According to Evliya Çelebi
In 1655, Evliya Çelebi, who visited Baghdad, describes the works of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Murad IV in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. Referring to Murad IV, he further elaborates, “Sultan, with seven thousand engineers, fortified and fortified Baghdad so firmly that Baghdad, since becoming Baghdad, has never seen such grand buildings and prosperity.” Thus, he expresses the Ottoman Empire’s efforts to restore this city, the apple of Islam’s eye, to its glorious days.
A Summit of Civilization
In his book “Medeniyetler ve Şehirler” (Civilizations and Cities), Ahmet Davutoğlu describes Baghdad as one of the cities established by a civilization, saying, “These cities are established by a civilization after its main elements have emerged on the stage of history, driven by political will. The typical example of this type is Baghdad.
When Baghdad was founded, the Islamic civilization had completed its formation. In other words, the mind that established Baghdad had a city life experience produced by that mind. During the Abbasid Caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, he transformed Baghdad into the most important center of knowledge and culture of the period. On the other hand, as the name ‘Medînetü’s-selâm’ clearly indicates, Baghdad was envisioned as a city of peace, the capital of political order.”
Ahmet Davutoğlu also includes these sentences in his book to highlight the level of civilization in Baghdad: “Baghdad had the best observatories, madrasas, and libraries of its time. Fârâbî, not only a philosopher but also a composer, music theorist, logician, and astronomer, wrote the most striking classic of the ideal city and political order, called ‘Medînetü’l-fâzıla,’ while he was in Baghdad. A major translation movement took place in this city. The works of ancient Greek philosophy were reinterpreted in this city, enriched by the accumulation of Islamic civilization.”