The Future of Babylon
Babylon’s remains date back thousands of years and were rediscovered by Robert Koldeway, a German archaeologist, at the end of the nineteenth century. Famous for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Babylon was also home to the Ishtar Gate, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. During the reign of Saddam Hussein, much reconstruction took place at the site and a modern palace was built on a promontory overlooking the ancient city. Since the American military withdrew from Babylon, WMF has been working with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to conserve the fragile archaeological remains. Many challenges remain: repairing the damage caused by the military, assessing the effects of the twentieth-century reconstructions at the site, and helping the Iraqi authorities make the site ready for visitors to once again enjoy the wonders of this site in the cradle of civilization.
How We Helped
WMF is currently engaged in a collaborative project with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to assess the conditions of the site and develop a list of priority conservation projects to stabilize the archaeological ruins. In addition, WMF will produce a site management plan that will address issues such as site boundaries, areas where future excavations might take place, the needs of the Babylon Museum to orient visitors to the site, and ways to accommodate tourists effectively at the site. One goal of the project is to assist the Iraqi authorities with the completion of a World Heritage nomination for Babylon. WMF is grateful to numerous donors who have contributed to the conservation, training, and management planning activities for Babylon including the US Government, the Paul Mellon Estate, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, and the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
Why It Matters
Babylon represents one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Babylon’s fame extends beyond the fact that the site dates to a time more than 4,000 years ago. Babylon achieved military fame, was the capital of a vast ancient empire, and contributed greatly to our knowledge of the ancient world through the study of the Code of Hammurabi, an eighteenth-century B.C. set of laws by which the society was ruled. Babylonia was a prosperous land and the remains today give scholars great insight into the sophisticated world in which Babylon was created and thrived. An integral aspect of the Future of Babylon project is the need to strengthen the capacity of the SBAH to manage Iraq’s cultural heritage. Training in digital scanning is just one facet of capacity building, and, in 2010, WMF sponsored two digital scanning training sessions with the SBAH and CyArk. The first was from February 13 to 20, when CyArk representatives and Jeff Allen, WMF consultant, traveled to Babylon to scan digitally the Ishtar Gate and Nabu-sha-Khare Temple and provide field-based training. CyArk representatives presented an introduction to scanning and the documentation process and demonstrated equipment assembly to local authorities representing Babylon and al-Hillah. Staff members were exposed to the various stages of documentation and were enthusiastic at the potential of digital scanning. In addition to the two main structures, scans were made of well-conserved bull and dragon décor motifs as examples of good conservation activities. The SBAH’s enthusiasm for digital scanning led to the second session held at CyArk’s headquarters in Oakland, California from September 13 to 24. Two SBAH representatives participated in a training course in digital preservation that provided them with tools and data they will use for condition assessments at Babylon. Gina Haney, WMF consultant, also participated in the training.