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Babylon and its treasures: preserving an ancient city

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Editor’s note: In this guest post, we’ll hear from Joshua David, President and CEO of World Monuments Fund.

Babylon is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and famous for its Hanging Gardens, Babylon is also home to Ishtar Gate and the Lion of Babylon, a national icon. It’s a site in Iraq that we, at the World Monuments Fund, have been conserving for more than a decade. And now, you can explore it, too.

Today, World Monuments Fund has joined forces with Google Arts & Culture to bring you Preserving Iraq’s Heritage, an online exhibit showcasing the unique stories of Iraq’s endangered heritage sites and the extraordinary efforts to preserve them. WMF has collected information about the sites, using never-before-seen 3D models, drone footage, interviews, and other media, and now, with today’s exhibit launch, anyone, anywhere, can experience these remarkable places, including sites previously known to only a few.

Much of our most important work has taken place in Iraq. In recent years, the country’s cultural heritage has been particularly impacted by conflict, from the US-led invasion in 2003, to the explosion of Mosul’s al-Nuri mosque by ISIS in 2017. Other factors including changing environmental conditions, neglect, and lack of resources have affected many of the country’s iconic sites. Because of Iraq’s long history of human habitation, its heritage uniquely reflects vast multicultural influences – from Assyrians and Babylonians, to Armenians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, to name just a few.

This interactive platform allows us to bring these places and their conservation to your fingertips.

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    World Monuments Fund began working with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in 2008 to conserve the fragile archaeological remains of Babylon.

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    The lamassu, a protective deity at the principal doors of the Assyrian palaces, is represented as a winged bull with a human bearded head and five legs. Thus the figure appears to be standing when viewed from the front and as walking if seen in profile.

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    Digital documentation provides a detailed picture of how Ishtar Gate is being affected by the elements.

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    Borsippa, just a little over ten miles away from Babylon, may be less known than its more famous neighbor, but its ziggurat, nonetheless, attracted archaeologists and visitors beginning in the 19th century.

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    In Mosul, you can learn more about the al-Hadba' Minaret, deliberately destroyed by ISIS militants in June 2017. The Minaret is on the 2018 World Monuments Watch to call for a shared vision among all stakeholders for the future of the site. Just two months ago, an announcement was made by UNESCO and the United Arab Emirates that they will invest $50 million to rebuild the great al-Nuri’ Mosque and its al-Hadba’ Minaret.

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    To to the north, you can explore Amedy, an impressive hilltop town included in the 2016 World Monuments Watch to call attention to its development pressures exacerbated by land limits.

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    The Ctesiphon Arch is one of the most recognizable sites in Iraq, yet armed conflict and violence in the last decade have made this site less visited--making this a special opportunity to share with the public a view of the remains of an early settlement on the Tigris.

Each of the sites in the exhibit were born of the human imagination and built with human hands. We care about these places because of what they signify to us and how they represent our mission. Our work in Iraq reflects World Monuments Fund’s global approach to empowering communities to protect, conserve, and steward their sites of cultural heritage, helping to generate transformative economic, educational, and cultural resources.

Discover Google Arts & Culture’s "Preserving Iraq’s Heritage” project online—or download the free app for iOS or Android.

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