While we are exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, our eyes are drawn to a nearby hill overlooking the legendary place. It is crowned by a huge building: one of the many palaces of Saddam Hussein, and that is exactly where we are headed after we have completed our exploration of Babylon. The ruins that have been partly restored by the same Saddam Hussein, in a very questionable way. It was apparently important to finish them as soon as possible: the restoration of the city and the building of the palace were both intended to strengthen the position of the former Iraqi dictator and secure his place in the history of one of the oldest countries in the world. His idea was to put himself on a par with the great kind Nebuchadnezzar, and Babylon was the perfect place to promote this idea.
As our guide tells us, the former settlement of Qawarish, where he and his forefathers lived for a long time, was razed to enable the construction of the palace. We walk the road that runs around the terrain of Babylon, through a small park where young people are having a photoshoot. There are families around, couples, people are having lunch on the ground. It feels like people come here for a day out. We follow the road that runs around the hill, eventually arriving at the entrance. Once well-protected for the former Iraqi strongman, entrance is free for everyone now. We walk around the plump and square building to get a better idea of its looks. It somehow reminds me of the palace of Ceausescu in Bucharest, even though that is much larger and better preserved. The lower walls have graffiti. We see calligraphy in the outer walls of the palace. It turns out that, in line with his example King Nebuchadnezzar, Saddam Hussein had his initials in Arabic placed all around his own palace.
Above one of the entrances, we see another sculpted decoration, with soldiers carrying an Iraqi flag, a woman and child, and workers. We enter the building, walk around the ground level. What immediately becomes clear: the floors still show that this is no ordinary house. They have decorations, just like many of the ceilings and walls. At the same time, the palace has since long been stripped of all furniture and almost everything that gives a house character. The walls are covered in graffiti. After the fall of Saddam in 2003, US troops used the palace as their base and left their marks everywhere - just like they destroyed parts of the ancient ruins of Babylon. In a big hall, boys are playing football amidst the debris lying on the floor. We walk up dilapidated stairs, and explore the entire palace. We see kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, livings - every one with different decorations, all destroyed and covered in graffiti. Apparently, the Iraqi dictator only stayed here once. When we arrive at the top floor, we walk outside. At our feet, we see the ruins of Babylon at our feet: the same ruins we had been exploring earlier that day, the reconstructed palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the city walls and the labyrinth of the old city. I cannot help but ask myself: what will last longer, the reconstructed palace of the legendary king, or the plundered and vandalised palace of the fallen dictator?
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Saddam Palace (Iraq). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Saddam Palace. Read more about this site.