Day 14 Nippur and Uruk
Our passports were sent to Baghdad yesterday so we should know tomorrow if we are going to get exit visas. We’ve been told that the Brigadier has approved them and will send a letter to airport immigration but G is insisting that we be given a copy because no one trusts that the permission document will actually be there.
Our police escort drove us to the town border and passed us onto a military escort to Nippur, the Sumerian religious capital. The site is extensive and has barely been excavated. The city originally stood either side of the Shat-el Nil River, surrounded by marshland, but that has long disappeared.
The Enlil Ziggurat is the main structure, surrounded by the ruins of domestic habitation and littered with pot sherds, bricks and glass. We spent a gloriously happy hour wandering around looking at our feet, in case we spotted something wonderful but had no luck.
Our chai stop was at a large roadside café which seated about 200 people in two rooms. D and I caused quite a stir sitting in the main room with the men, while the black burka women were crammed into the smaller family room. We queued for ages for the toilets because the ladies have to totally undress to use the squat loos and hang up their clothes to avoid them getting dirty.
After another wait at Samawah to buy tickets for Uruk ( the site claims to sell tickets at the gate but G has had previous tours turned away), we then drove an hour back the way we came to then sit for 20 minutes arguing with the gatekeeper who didn’t like the look of our paperwork. It was 4pm and it was obvious that they didn’t want to give us access because they wanted to go home early. In the end they gave up and let us in.
A close police escort watched our every move to make sure that no one pocketed souvenirs. G had a standoff with them last year and refused to let them search the bus after being accused of looting. He later received an apology from the Minister. G isn’t popular here because, as K put it, “he makes them walk” around the site with us, rather than just stand at the edge to view the site, like most tourists do.
Uruk is the largest site in the Middle East and very little has been mapped or excavated. Founded 5,000 BC, continuously occupied until the Middle Ages, the ziggurat is in good condition.
The most stunning thing however is that it’s one massive spoil heap. There are millions of pot sherds, some 6,000 years old and virtually intact. Beautiful pottery room cones (made to line and decorate rooms) still show their original colour and are now scattered under our feet; Glass fragments everywhere; Blobs of bitumen which have fallen from between the bricks. Small votive animals and coins are often found lying on the surface, washed out by the rain.
We walked up to the ruined Parthian temple ( Charyos) and stood in the golden twilight for a while, just trying to absorb everything in the short time we had.
G took off further up an incline with B and A and called to us to follow but it was too steep for the rest of us to follow, so we walked the kilometre back to the bus to wait for them. My inability to tackle crumbly, dusty, fragile slopes meant that I missed viewing a 10 metre wall with lapis faced bricks and another fragment with the wall cones still in situ. I cursed myself but there was no way I could have made it up there without collapsing in the heat.
We had chai and watched the sun go down, then waited 15 minutes for the guardian to let us out, while the police argued with the site staff.
We then had a long, dangerous drive back in the dark to Samawah .