Baghdad is the capital of the Republic of Iraq, as well as the coterminous Baghdad Province. The population of Baghdad as of 2011 is approximately 7,216,040, making it the largest city in Iraq, the second largest city in the Arab World (after Cairo, Egypt), and the second largest city in Western Asia (after Tehran, Iran).
Located along the Tigris River, the city was founded in the 8th century and became the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. Within a short time of its inception, Baghdad evolved into a significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual center for the Islamic World. This in addition to housing several key academic institutions (e.g. House of Wisdom) garnered the city a worldwide reputation as the "Centre of Learning". Throughout the High Middle Ages, Baghdad was considered to be the largest city in the world with an estimated population of 1,200,000 people. The city was largely destroyed at the hands of the Mongol Empire in 1258, resulting in a decline that would linger through many centuries due to frequent plagues and multiple successive empires. With the recognition of Iraq as an independent state (formerly the British Mandate of Mesopotamia) in 1938, Baghdad gradually regained some of its former prominence as a significant center of Arabic culture.
In contemporary times the city has often faced severe infrastructural damage, most recently due to the American-led foreign occupation in March 2003 that lasted until December 2011 and the subsequent sectarian violence. In recent years the city has been frequently subjected to insurgency activities and terrorist attacks. Though the nation continues to work toward rebuilding and reconciliation, as of 2012 Baghdad continues to be listed as one of the least hospitable places in the world to live and was ranked by Mercer as the worst of 221 major cities as measured by quality-of-life.
After the fall of the Persian Sassanid empire, the victorious muslim rulers wanted their own capital. Choosing a site north of the Persian capital of Ctesiphone, on 30, July 762 the caliph Al Mansur commissioned the construction of the city and it was built under the supervision of the Barmakids. Mansur believed that Baghdad was the perfect city to be the capital of the Islamic empire under the Abbasids. Mansur loved the site so much he is quoted saying, "This is indeed the city that I am to found, where I am to live, and where my descendants will reign afterward".
The city's growth was helped by its location, which gave it control over strategic and trading routes, along the Tigris. A reason why Baghdad provided an excellent location was the abundance of water and the dry climate. Water exists on both north and south ends of the city gates, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply, which was very uncommon during this time.
In its early years the city was known as a deliberate reminder of an expression in the Qur'an, when it refers to Paradise. Four years before Baghdad's foundation, in 758, Mansur assembled engineers, surveyors, and art constructionists from around the world to come together and draw up plans for the city. Over 100,000 construction workers came to survey the plans; many were distributed salaries to start the building of the city. July was chosen as the starting time because two astrologers, Naubakht Ahvaz and Mashallah, believed that the city should be built under the sign of the lion, Leo. Leo is associated with fire and symbolises productivity, pride, and expansion.
The bricks used to make the city were on all four sides. Abu Hanifa was the counter of the bricks and he developed a canal, which brought water to the work site for the use of both human consumption and the manufacturing of the bricks. Marble was also used to make buildings throughout the city, and marble steps led down to the river's edge.
The basic framework of the city consists of two large semicircles about in diameter. The city was designed as a circle about 2 km in diameter, leading it to be known as the "Round City". The original design shows as single ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring inside the first. Within the city there were many parks, gardens, villas, and promenades. In the center of the city lay the mosque, as well as headquarters for guards. The purpose or use of the remaining space in the center is unknown. The circular design of the city was a direct reflection of the traditional Persian Sasanian urban design. The Sasanian city of Gur in Fars, built 500 years before Baghdad, is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and the government buildings and temples at the centre of the city. This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities are designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.
The surrounding walls
The four surrounding walls of Baghdad were named Kufa, Basra, Khurasan, and Damascus; named because their gates pointed in the directions of these destinations. The distance between these gates was a little less than . Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them. The wall itself was about 44 m thick at the base and about 12 m thick at the top. Also, the wall was 30 m high, which included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures. This wall was surrounded by another wall with a thickness of 50 m. The second wall had towers and rounded merlons, which surrounded the towers. This outer wall was protected by solid glacis, which is made out of bricks and quicklime. Beyond the outer wall was a water-filled moat.
Golden Gate Palace
In the middle of Baghdad, in the central square was the Golden Gate Palace. The Palace was the residence of the caliph and his family. In the central part of the building was a green dome that was 39 m high. Surrounding the palace was an esplanade, a waterside building, in which only the caliph could come riding on horseback. In addition, the palace was near other mansions and officer's residences. Near the Gate of Syria a building served as the home for the guards. It was made of brick and marble. The palace governor lived in the latter part of the building and the commander of the guards in the front. In 813, after the death of caliph Al-Amin the palace was no longer used as the home for the caliph and his family. The roundness points to the fact that it was based on Arabic script. The two designers who were hired by Al-Mansur to plan the city's design were Naubakht, a Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a Jew from Khorasan, Iran.
The Abbasids and the round city
The Abbasid Caliphate was based on their being the descendants of the uncle of Muhammad and being part of the Quraysh tribe. They used Shi'a resentment, Khorasanian movement, and appeals to the ambitions and traditions of the newly conquered Persian aristocracy to overthrow the Umayyads. The Abbasids sought to combine the hegemony of the Arabic tribes with the imperial, court, ceremonial, and administrative structures of the Persians. The Abbasids considered themselves the inheritors of two traditions: the Arabian-Islamic (bearers of the mantle of Muhammad) and the Persian (successors to the Sassanid monarchs).
These two things are evident from the construction, which is modeled after Persian structures and the need of Mansur to place the capital in a place that was representative of Arab-Islamic identity by building the House of Wisdom, where ancient texts were translated from their original language, such as Greek, to Arabic. Mansur is credited with the "Translation Movement" for this. Further, Baghdad is also near the ancient Sassanid imperial seat of Ctesiphon on the Tigris River.
A centre of learning (8th to 13th centuries)
Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. Scholars headed to Baghdad from all over the Abbasid empire, facilitating the introduction of Persian, Greek and Indian science into the Arabic and Islamic world at that time. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it was tied by Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak. Many of the One Thousand and One Nights tales are set in Baghdad during this period.
The end of the Abbasids in Baghdad
By the 10th century, the city's population was between 1.2 million and 2 million. Baghdad's early meteoric growth eventually slowed due to troubles within the Caliphate, including relocations of the capital to Samarra (during 808–819 and 836–892), the loss of the western and easternmost provinces, and periods of political domination by the Iranian Buwayhids (945–1055) and Seljuk Turks (1055–1135).
The Seljuks were a clan of the Oghuz Turks from the Siberian steppes that converted to the Sunni branch of Islam. In 1040, they destroyed the Ghaznavids, taking over their land and in 1055, Tughril Beg, the leader of the Seljuks, took over Baghdad. The Seljuks expelled the Buyids dynasty of Shiites that ruled for some time and took over power and control of Baghdad. They ruled as Sultans in the name of the Abbasid caliphs (they saw themselves as being part of the Abbasid regime) Tughril Beg saw himself as the protector of the Abbasid Caliphs.
In 1058, Baghdad was captured by the Fatimids under the Turkish general Abu'l-Ḥārith Arslān al-Basasiri, an adherent of the Ismailis along with the 'Uqaylid Quraysh. Not long before the arrival of the Saljuqs in Baghdad, al-Basasiri petitioned to the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Mustansir to support him in conquering Baghdad on the Ismaili Imam's behalf. It has recently come to light that the famed Fatimid da'i al-Mu'ayyad al-Shirazi had a direct role in supporting al-Basasiri and helped the general to succeed in taking Mawṣil, Wāsit and Kufa. Soonafter, By December 1058, a Shi'i adhān (call to prayer) was implemented in Baghdad and a khutba (sermon) was delivered in the name of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph. Despite his Shi'i inclinations, Al-Basasiri received support from Sunnis and Shi'is alike, for whom opposition to the Saljuq power was a common factor.
On February 10, 1258, Baghdad was captured by the Mongols led by Hulegu, a grandson of Chingiz Khan (Genghis Khan) during the sack of Baghdad. Many quarters were ruined by fire, siege, or looting. The Mongols massacred most of the city's inhabitants, including the caliph Al-Musta'sim, and destroyed large sections of the city. The canals and dykes forming the city's irrigation system were also destroyed. The sack of Baghdad put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate, a blow from which the Islamic civilization never fully recovered.
At this point Baghdad was ruled by the Il-Khanids, the Mongol emperors of Iran. In 1401, Baghdad was again sacked, by Timur ("Tamerlane"). When his forces took Baghdad, he spared almost no one, and ordered that each of his soldiers bring back two severed human heads. It became a provincial capital controlled by the Jalayirid (1400–1411), Kara Koyunlu (1411–1469), Ak Koyunlu (1469–1508), and the Iranian Safavid (1508–1534) dynasties.
Ottoman era (16th to 19th centuries)
In 1534, Baghdad was captured by the Ottoman Turks. Under the Ottomans, Baghdad fell into a period of decline, partially as a result of the enmity between its rulers and Iranian Safavids, which did not accept the Sunni control of the city. Between 1623 and 1638, it returned to Iranian rule before falling back into Ottoman hands.
For a time, Baghdad had been the largest city in the Middle East. The city saw relative revival in the latter part of the 18th century under a Mamluk government. Direct Ottoman rule was reimposed by Ali Ridha Pasha in 1831. From 1851-1852 and from 1861–1867, Baghdad was governed, under the Ottoman Empire by Mehmed Namık Pasha. The Nuttall Encyclopedia reports the 1907 population of Baghdad as 185,000. Aside from ethnically Arab Iraqis, the city was also home to a substantial ancient Jewish community, which comprised over a quarter of the city's population (this proportion would grow in later years).
Baghdad and southern Iraq remained under Ottoman rule until 1917, when captured by the British during World War I. From 1920, Baghdad became the capital of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia and, after 1932, Baghdad was the capital of the Kingdom of Iraq. Iraq was given formal independence in 1932 and increased autonomy in 1946. The city's population grew from an estimated 145,000 in 1900 to 580,000 in 1950 of which 140,000 (nearly a quarter) were Jewish. In the 1920s, Baghdad was 40 percent Jewish. Jews made up the largest single community in the city and controlled up to 95 percent of business. Baghdad was also home to many prominent Jewish figures, such as Sassoon Eskell.
On 1 April 1941 members of the "Golden Square" and Rashid Ali staged a coup in Baghdad. Rashid Ali installed a pro-German and pro-Italian government to replace the pro-British government of Regent Abdul Ilah. On 31 May, after the resulting Anglo-Iraqi War and after Rashid Ali and his government had fled, the Mayor of Baghdad surrendered to British and Commonwealth forces. After the collapse, a pogrom (Farhud) took place against the Jewish population of Baghdad, where around 175 Jews had been killed, one thousand injured, and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed.
On 14 July 1958, members of the Iraqi Army under Abdul Karim Kassem staged a coup to topple the Kingdom of Iraq. King Faisal II, former Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, former Regent Prince Abdul Ilah, members of the royal family, and others were brutally killed during the coup. Many of the victim's bodies were then dragged through the streets of Baghdad.
During the 1970s, Baghdad experienced a period of prosperity and growth because of a sharp increase in the price of petroleum, Iraq's main export. New infrastructure including modern sewerage, water, and highway facilities were built during this period. However, the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s was a difficult time for the city, as money was diverted by Saddam Hussein to the army and thousands of residents were killed. Iran launched a number of missile attacks against Baghdad in retaliation for Saddam Hussein's continuous bombardments of Tehran's residential districts.
In 1991 and 2003, the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused significant damage to Baghdad's transportation, power, and sanitary infrastructure as the US-led coalition forces launched massive aerial assaults in the city in the two wars.