The Basrah Museum has started a new project showcasing Iraqi cultural legacy just in time for Iraq’s football victory at the Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra, which drew thousands of fans to the southern port city.
Director Qahtan al Abeed says that the first part of the “Garden of Civilization” project has just started in the museum courtyard.
Thanks to money from the local government, copies of the famous Lion of Babylon and the Assyrian Lamassu from the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad have been put up.
The museum is in a renovated palace that used to belong to Saddam Hussein.
Instead, after the invasion, it was quickly taken by settlers.
The Basrah Museum has started a new project to show Iraq’s cultural heritage. This came just in time for Iraq to win the Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra, bringing many football fans to the southern port city. Director Qahtan al Abeed says that the first part of the “Garden of Civilization” project has just started in the museum courtyard.
Thanks to money from the local government, copies of the famous Lion of Babylon and the Assyrian Lamassu from the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad have been put up. Plans are in the works to erect a replica of the Ishtar gate from Babylon and the Ziggurat of Ur in the garden, subject to further funding.
According to Abeed, many Iraqis cannot afford to see their cultural legacy. They will be able to “journey” through Iraq in this garden and take in their nation’s heritage.
The project intends to boost domestic and international cultural tourism and develop student educational programs.
The museum is in a renovated palace that used to belong to Saddam Hussein. It is a kind of temple to modern Iraqi politics and society. Rioters stole nine museums during demonstrations against the state following the First Gulf War, including the original museum, which was shut down in 1991. The collection’s remaining pieces were stored in Baghdad.
The building itself used to belong to a Jewish date trader. In 1945, the Greek government bought it and used it as a consulate until 1971. It is built in the style of late Ottoman architecture called Basran Shanasheel and has beautiful wooden latticework. In 1972, after taking over the oil industry, the Iraqi government decided to turn it into a museum for the public. At the time, Iraq was newly rich and aimed to promote culture and education. Many theaters, art galleries, and educational institutions in Iraq date from the 1970s, the heyday of that country’s investment in cultural infrastructure.
After the museum had been closed for a few years, the State Board of Heritage and Antiquities moved in for a short time in 2003. Abeed, who had just graduated from the University of Baghdad after studying archaeology, wanted the museum to open again. Instead, after the invasion, it was quickly taken by settlers. In 2005, when Mudhar Abd Alhay and Abeed were in charge of the museum and its deputy, squatters they were trying to get rid of shot up their car, killing Alhay.
Later, when he was hired as the museum’s director in 2008, Abeed suggested to the Basra city council that one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, a luxurious home built on the Shatt al-Arab river in 1990, might be a good place for a new museum. Hugo Clarke, a British army commander; Paul Collins, the former curator of the ancient Near East at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; John Curtis; a group named Friends of Basrah Museum; and others helped make the first gallery open in 2016, and the grand opening took place in 2019.
Abeed says that the former director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Sattaa Al-Hasri, gave him ideas. When the land around the museum was first given to Al-Hasri, he built walls and a gate to keep it safe.
He built the Assyrian Gate as the main entrance to the museum. According to Abeed, three copies of the Lion of Babylon were made and put into the other pillars to represent the ground’s boundaries. He says, “Almost a century after it was made, we were able to make a professional copy of the Lion of Babylon that stands at the entrance to the Basrah Museum.”
Plans call for building copies of the Ziggurat of Ur and Babylon’s Ishtar Gate, as well as a copy of the historic Al-Mokab Street in the city’s old town, if the money is there. The goal is to “gather the symbols of civilization in our lovely Basra.”