Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
195
BAGDAD

western city and four in the eastern; one of the latter, however, on the north side, called “Gate of the Talisman” from an Arabic inscription bearing the date A.D. 1220, has remained closed since the capture of the city by Murad IV. in 1638. These walls all fell into decay long since; at places they were used as brick quarries, and finally the great reforming governor, (1868-1872), Midhat Pasha, following the example set by many European cities, undertook to destroy them altogether and utilize the free space thus obtained as a public park and esplanade. His plans were only partially carried out. At present fragments of the walls exist here and there, with the great ditch about them, while elsewhere a line of mounds marks their course. A great portion of the ground within the wall lines is not occupied by buildings, especially in the north-western quarter; and even in the more populous parts of the city, near the river, a considerable space between the houses is occupied by gardens, where pomegranates, figs, oranges, lemons and date-palms grow in great abundance, so that the city, when seen at a distance, has the appearance of rising out of the midst of trees.

Along the Tigris the city spreads out into suburbs, the most important of which is Kazemain, on the western side of the river northward, opposite which on the eastern side lies Muazzam. The former of these is connected with western Bagdad by a very primitive horse-tramway, also a relic of Midhat Pasha's reforms. The two parts of the city are joined by pontoon bridges, one in the suburbs and one in the main city. The Tigris is at this point some 275 yds. wide and very deep. Its banks are of mud, with no other retaining walls than those formed by the foundations of the houses, which are consequently always liable to be undermined by the action of the water. The western part of the city, which is very irregular in shape, is occupied entirely by Shi‛as. It has its own shops, bazaars, mosques, &c., and constitutes a quarter by itself. Beyond the wall line on that side vestiges of ancient buildings are visible in various directions, and the plain is strewn with fragments of bricks, tiles and rubbish. A burying-ground has also extended itself over a large tract of land, formerly occupied by the streets of the city. The form of the new or eastern city is that of an irregular oblong, about 1500 paces in length by 800 in breadth. The town has been built without the slightest regard to regularity; the streets are even more intricate and winding than those in most other Eastern towns, and with the exception of the bazaars and some open squares, the interior is little else than a labyrinth of alleys and passages. The streets are unpaved and in many places so narrow that two horsemen can scarcely pass each other; as it is seldom that the houses have windows facing the thoroughfares, and the doors are small and mean, they present on both sides the gloomy appearance of dead walls. All the buildings, both public and private, are constructed of furnace-burnt bricks of a yellowish-red colour, principally derived from the ruins of other places, chiefly Madain (Ctesiphon), Wasit and Babylon, which have been plundered at various times to furnish materials for the construction of Bagdad.

The houses of the richer classes are regularly built about an interior court. The ground floor, except for the serdab, is given up to kitchens, store-rooms, servants' quarters, stables, &c. The principal rooms are on the first floor and open directly from a covered veranda, which is reached by an open staircase from the court. These constitute the winter residence of the family, reception rooms, &c. The roofs of the houses are all flat, surrounded by parapets of sufficient height to protect them from the observation of the dwellers opposite, and separate them from their neighbours. In the summer the population sleeps and dines upon the roofs, which thus constitute to all intents a third storey. The remainder of the day, so far as family life is concerned, is spent in the serdab, a cellar sunk somewhat below the level of the courtyard, damp from frequent wettings, with its half windows covered with hurdles thatched with camel thorn and kept dripping with water. Occasionally the serdabs are provided with punkahs.

Sometimes, in the months of June, July and August, when the sherki or south wind is blowing, the thermometer at break of day is known to stand at 112° F., while at noon it rises to 119° and a little before two o'clock to 122°, standing at sunset at 114°, but this scale of temperature is exceptional. Ordinarily during the summer months the thermometer averages from about 75° at sunrise to 107° at the hottest time of the day. Owing to the extreme dryness of the atmosphere and the fact that there is always a breeze, usually from the N.W., this heat is felt much less than a greatly lower temperature in a more humid atmosphere. Moreover, the nights are almost invariably cool.

Formerly Bagdad was intersected by innumerable canals and aqueducts which carried the water of both the Euphrates and the Tigris through the streets and into the houses. To-day these have all vanished, with the exception of one aqueduct which still conveys the water of the Tigris to the shrine of Abd al-Qadir (ul-Kadir). The present population draws its water directly from the Tigris, and it is distributed through the city in goat-skins carried on the backs of men and asses. There is, of course, no sewerage system, the surfaces of the streets serving that purpose, and what garbage and refuse is not consumed by the dog scavengers washes down into the Tigris at the same place from which the water for drinking is drawn. As a consequence of these insanitary conditions the death-rate is very high, and in case of epidemics the mortality is enormous. At such times a large part of the population leaves the city and encamps in the desert northward.

The principal public buildings of the city, such as they are, lie in the eastern section along the river bank. To the north, just within the old wall line, stands the citadel, surrounded by a high wall, with a lofty clock-tower which commands an excellent view. To the south of this, also on the Tigris, is the serai or palace of the Turkish governor, distinguished rather for extent than grandeur. It is comparatively modern, built at different periods, a large and confused structure without proportion, beauty or strength. Somewhat farther southward, just below the pontoon bridge, stands the custom house, which occupies the site and is built out of the material of the medreseh or college of Mostansir (A.D. 1233). Of the original building of the caliph Mostansir all that remains is a minaret and a small portion of the outer walls. Farther down are the imposing buildings of the British residency. The German consulate also is on the river-front. As in all Mahommedan cities, the mosques are conspicuous objects. Of these very few are old. The Marjanieh mosque, not far from the minaret of Mostansir, although its body is modern, has some remains of old and very rich arabesque work on its surface, dating from the 14th century. The door is formed by a lofty arch of the pointed form guarded on both sides with red bands exquisitely sculptured and having numerous inscriptions. The mosque of Khaseki, supposed to have been an old Christian church, is chiefly distinguished for its prayer niche, which, instead of being a simple recess, is crowned by a Roman arch, with square pedestals, spirally fluted shafts and a rich capital of flowers, with a fine fan or shell-top in the Roman style. The building in its present form bears the date of A.D. 1682, but the sculptures which it contains belong probably to the time of the caliphate. The minaret of Suk el-Ghazl, in the south-eastern part of the city, dates from the 13th century. The other mosques, of which there are about thirty within the walls, excluding the chapels and places of prayer, are all of recent erection. Most of them are surmounted by bright-coloured cupolas and minarets. The Mosque of the Vizier, on the eastern side of the Tigris, near the pontoon bridge, has a fine dome and a lofty minaret, and the Great Mosque in the square of el Meidan, in the neighbourhood of the serai, is also a noble building.

The other mosques do not merit any particular attention, and in general it may be said that Bagdad architecture is neither distinctive nor imposing. Such attractions as the buildings possess are due rather to the richly coloured tiles with which many of them are adorned, or to inscriptions, like the Kufic inscription, dated A.D. 944, on the ruined tekke of the Bektash dervishes in western Bagdad. More important than the mosques