Visiting the ancient city of Babylon

by Osama S. M. Amin
We had a 4-day national holiday. Meaning what? No clinic and no hospital! I said to myself, “It’s been a long time since I have visited Babylonia.” I drove my car for about 11 hours, continuously. Finally, I was there. I went to my uncle’s house, which lies about a quarter of hour from the ancient city of Babylon. The ancient city lies within modern-day city of Hillah, the center of Babel Governorate, Iraq, about 83 kilometers south of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital city.
After the US-led invasion in 2003, the American and Polish armies established a military base within the ancient city. God only knows what happened there during their presence! A British Museum report has found that extensive damage was done to the site by this military occupation. In 2009, the local government of Babylon opened the city to the public.
It was a very sunny and hot day in mid-July, with temperatures exceeding 55 oC (131 F). I took 8 bottles of cold water with me!
A general view of the ancient city of Babylon. The picture was shot from Saddam’s Palace, which lies on a mound which looks over the city. The South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar lies on the right. Babylon, modern day Babel Governorate, Iraq.
After passing through the checkpoint and doing the security check, I found myself in front of a replica of the Ishtar Gate; this marks the entry into the old city of Babylon. No one was there; the employees were sleeping. I and my cousin went through a large courtyard, where the “Nebuchadnezzar Museum” lies; this museum was looted by local criminals during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has been closed ever since.
Then, I faced the processional street. The street is long and is divided into three parts. The first and the third parts are surrounded by fences to prevent people from entering. The original tiles are still in situ! Former president Saddam Hussein ordered the reconstruction and renovation of the ancient city of Babylon during 1980s CE and some of the walls, foundations, and buildings were buried and were replaced by modern ones.
At the right side of the Processional Street lies the Ninmah temple. In went inside it and found that some walls and roofs of the temple were in a very bad condition and no recent renovations have been done.
After that, I went once again to the Processional Street. An archeological team was digging into some part of the foundations of the 2nd part of the street; they uncovered the relief of a Sirrush (a four-legged Babylonian mythological creature)! At the end of the Street, turn left; the Lion of Babylon statue appears! “It has been there, standing on that man, day and night, under the sun and rain, for 2600 years,” I said to myself in awe. The pedestal and the surrounding area were undergoing a renovation work. The statue itself was left, as it is, untouched.
Ruins of the North Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar. This palace was not reconstructed during Saddam’s era. Neo-Babylonian period, 605-562 BCE. Babylon, modern day Bebel Governorate, Iraq.
The ruins of the North Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II were next. These ruins were not touched during the 1980s’ work. The inner walls of the city of Babylon are located just behind this palace, and they look like they are about to collapse. The walls looks over the South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II; this palace was rebuilt completely during Saddam’s era and its older walls, rooms, and foundations were completely buried underneath this modern palace.
Although the city and its content underwent a very comprehensive renovation, using modern bricks, the scent of history and the power of king Nebuchadnezzar II are still there; I can feel it! My cousin got bored and our companion was hungry and drowsy; I shot more than 900 pictures and wanted more, but what to do!
I really enjoyed seeing the stamped bricks, and smelled the ancient walls. “Nebuchadnezzar II lived here and this person had changed the path of the history,” I told myself. Saddam Hussein tried to revive Babylon and he portrayed himself as the new Nebuchadnezzar; a policy which intended to create a propaganda in order to frighten a nearby country in a very hostile way. He, instead, re-shaped the city and destroyed what Nebuchadnezzar II had done!
You can also read about my visits to other sites in Iraq: Borsippa.

The Processional Street

Once you enter the ancient city of Babylon, you will face this. This is the beginning of the Processional Street. The street is surrounded by a fence. The original tiles are still in their places and are covered with bitumen.

Floor Tiles

A close-up view of the original tiles of the Processional Street at Babylon. Note the black bitumen!

Modern Processional Street Reconstructions

This is exactly the opposite end of the Processional Street. This part is flanked by walls which were built using modern bricks.

Ninmah Temple

Ninmah Temple appears behind ruins of a low-lying flat building (which is thought to represent an altar). Babylon.

Sirrush (Mušḫuššu) and Aurochs Reliefs

This is the second part of the processional street. It is flanked by walls which were decorated with Sirrushes (Mušḫuššu) and Aurochs. These walls have underwent very minimal renovation and the decorations are original (compare them with those on the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum, which were made with glazed bricks).


A close-up view of a Sirrush (Mušḫuššu) on a wall at the Processional Street of Babylon. The ones that are present at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin were made with glazed-bricks.

Stamped Brick in Babylon

A close-up view of a stamped mud-brick. Part of a wall at the Processional Street. The cuneiform inscriptions mention the name of Nebuchadnezzar II.

Sirrush Discovery

Part of the floor adjacent to a wall at the Processional Street was removed and a Sirrush (Mušḫuššu) was uncovered. During the 1980s, former president Saddam Hussein ordered the renovation and reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon. Workers who participated in this campaign said that almost 5 meters of the original walls and foundations were buried! Exclusive photo.

Lion of Babylon Statue

General view of the Lion of Babylon statue. The surrounding area and the pedestal underwent a renovation work recently. The statue itself underwent no changes. The work has been completed by now and the ribbon has been removed, thereafter. The palace of Saddam Hussein, which was built on an artificial mound, appears behind the statue.
The Lion of Babylon statue. Basalt. Neo-Babylonian period, reign of king Nebuchadnezzar, 605-562 BCE. Babylon, modern Babel Governorate, Iraq.

Another Stamped Mud-Brick

A close-up view of a partially broken stamped mud-brick. I found the brick on the earth! Babylon, modern day Bebel Governorate, Iraq.

Inner City Walls of Babylon

The inner city walls. They are about to collapse. Babylon, modern day Bebel Governorate, Iraq.

Saddam Plaque

Modern mud-brick in a wall which was inscribed with Arabic language that mentions the name of Saddam Hussein as the president and protector of the great Iraq, who had re-built Babylon in 1987-1988 CE .” This brick documents the first and second renovation plans in 1987-1988 CE. Some bricks document the finalization of the renovation plan in  1989 CE. Saddam used more than 60 million modern bricks to construct new walls and buildings and he imitated Mesopotamian kings and rulers in using these stamped bricks. These bricks in this picture are from the South Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II. The original ancient palace was buried beneath this palace. The UNESCO removed Babylon from the World Heritage List, thereafter. Extracted from the website: Ancient History Encyclopedia under Creative Commons license.

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