Baghdad (trans. 'Gift Of God']) is the capital of Iraq, it lies in the centre of the country on the river Tigris at 33° 20' N, 44° 24' E; population (1987) 3,844,608. Baghdad has a very long history; it was founded in 762AD by the caliph Abu Jafar al-Mansur (754-775AD), the second of the Abbasid caliphs. The original city arose on the west bank of the Tigris, opposite a Sassanid village named Baghdad, which it later subsumed. In design it had three concentric walls, the inner most circle containing the caliph's palace and grand mosque, the second contained the army quarters, the third circle was occupied by the by the people themselves. The merchants and their bazaars were relegated to outside the city walls. The city was divided by four roads which radiated outwards from the inner circle.

Originally it was named Madinat as-Salam (City of Peace), but because of its construction was more commonly known as the Round City. It was situated close to many trade routes, and under the rule of the caliphs Mahdi and then Harun ar-Rashid (786-806AD) its pre-eminent commercial position made it one of the most important cities of Islam, and second only in size to Constantinople. Despite some setbacks, it kept its status up until sea borne trade routes to India began to open up around 1497. Harun's rule was perhaps the most glorious of all and saw a great florishing of art and literature. It was at this time that the Thousand and One Nights was written, with many of the stories being set in Baghdad itself. The city also spread to the east bank of the Tigris, this section being called Rusafah. At one point the east and west portions of the city were joined by a bridge made from boats!
When Harun died in 809, the caliphate moved to Samarra; by the time it returned later in the century, years of internal factions fighting for power had lessened its influence. Since then (until recently) Baghdad's history has been one of conquest, and slow decline.

The first of Baghdad's invasions was by the grandson of Genghis Khan, Hulagu Khan (1217-1265) and 200,000 of his amazing, rampaging Mongolian horde in 1258. It seems they may have spent about forty days pillaging the city, and killing perhaps several hundred thousand of its inhabitants. The caliph al-Musta`sim Billah was killed, many of the important buildings destroyed, including the irrigation system; which ended the reign of the Abbasid caliphs. Just as it began to recover, it was captured again by Timur in 1400, and then by the Persians in 1524. The Persians and the Turks then fought over the city, until the Turks won in 1638 and the city became part of the Ottoman Empire. The hundreds of years of warfare had taken its toll on the city, its population being reduced from perhaps 1 million at its height, to only a few thousand. In 1917 it was captured by the British during the first world war, and governed by them until 1920. They were slow to give Iraq the independent 'responsible government' the League of Nations promised, triggering uprisings which proved too costly to quell. The British, forced to do something installed the Hashemite monarchy, and gradually the country moved towards full indepence, which was granted in 1932, when the British mandate was revoked. In 1921 Baghdad was again made capital city of Iraq. Once again Baghdad began to regain some of its lost power and glory, and the oil boom in the 1970's saw large areas of residential housing built, along with schools, hospitals, highways, and an airport.

Again wars took their toll on Baghdad, both during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80's, and then again in the Gulf war of 1991; which saw most of Baghdad's infrastructure destroyed. Yet again Baghdad does look like it is about to recover, most of Iraq's industries are located near the city, including oil refineries, food-processing, tanneries, textile mills as well as weapons factories. Although giving the current renewal of hostilities, it looks like the local people will have to endure another cycle of destruction and renewal. The best anyone can hope for is that the average Iraqi will emerge better off than before.

There are several universities; University of Baghdad (est. 1957), al-Mustansiriyah University (est. 1963), and the University of Technology (est. 1974). The center of Baghdad is Tahrir Square on the west bank, from which the cities main streets still radiate from here in the manner of old. The eastern portion of the city, Rusafah is joined to the west (Karkh) by eleven bridges. Some of the old ruins can still be seen, including the last remaining gate of old Baghdad, Bab al-Wastani, the Abbasid Palace, dating from about 1179 and al-Mustansiriyah, a college founded in 1232.

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