Overlooking the Tigris river in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad a 100-year-old shabby and neglected mansion stands-Zamkuwire - Zamkuwire.com

Overlooking the Tigris river in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad a 100-year-old shabby and neglected mansion stands-Zamkuwire

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Al-Mutanabbi street, known for its book sellers, in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, on April 17, 2020.

‘With each house collapsing, Baghdad also loses a piece of its identity’

Overlooking the Tigris river in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a 100-year-old shabby and neglected mansion stands behind a sign saying “Danger of collapse,” warning visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of its faded glory.

The 16-room building once boasted latticed windows, delicate carvings, a balcony, and an inner courtyard dotted with fruit trees.

Now, like many of Baghdad’s roughly 2,5000 remaining historic houses, it is falling apart. Decades of political turmoil, neglect, soaring real estate prices, and a lack of funds have taken their toll on the city’s architectural past.

AFP
AFPA telecommunications building, built as a tower with arches inspired by the centuries-old citadels found in Iraq’s oldest cities, near the Tigris river in central Baghdad, Iraq, on April 23, 2009.

From her home next door to the historic house, Dhikra Sarsam – a founding member of the Burj Babel Initiative – works to raise awareness of the need to preserve Old Baghdad.

“This is a huge loss for the history of Baghdad. With each house collapsing, Baghdad also loses a piece of its identity,” she said.

Owners of listed buildings are not allowed to demolish them, and the government can provide loans or grants for renovations. But the government “is not committing to this,” Sarsam said.

Last year, with the help of UNESCO, the government renovated al-Mutanabbi street, a Baghdad landmark that bustles with booksellers and artists.

SABAH ARAR / AFP
SABAH ARAR / AFPPeople walk along the reopened and renovated al-Mutanabbi street, the historic heart of the book trade and an outlet for writers and intellectuals, in the center of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, on December 25, 2021.

But residential alleyways nearby are dotted with crumbling homes and “shanasheel” – traditional balconies with ornate woodwork – are falling apart.

To circumvent the ban on demolishing listed buildings, owners sometimes flood or set fire to them, said Mohammed al-Rubaye, the head of media and public relations at the Mayoralty of Baghdad.

The motive is clear – Baghdad real estate prices are high and selling land for development is profitable.

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