Day 19 Baghdad : Shrines and Tombs
As G put it, it was a “bitsy day”. As it was Saturday, nearly everything was closed, so we did a slow tour of some shrines and cemeteries.
First was the tomb of Sheik Omar Al-Sahrawadi, a mystic theologian who died in 1225. It’s a simple structure with a beautiful, elegant brick dome, Seljuk style.
Then onto Joshua’s tomb, via old railway sidings, which was being unsympathetically renovated. The old tiles have been stripped and very little of the original decoration remained. His tomb was covered in plastic and surrounded by rubble, fag ends and litter. This is hardly reverent. Though it’s highly unlikely Joshua is buried here, someone has been venerated here since the 1200’s.
A second mystic shrine was also being renovated. The renovation is a real pig’s ear (excuse the phrase). Appallingly haphazard brickwork plus a brand new minaret. I despair.
On the way out to the main road, we spotted an old steam train rotting away in the sidings amongst ancient rolling stock.
We maneuvered through a tangle of overhead electric wires in narrow back streets to reach the shrine of Harum al- Rachid’s wife, Sitt Zubeida, ( allegedly buried here around 800 AD) getting entangled in a particularly bad set of cables in front of the tomb. The whole neighbourhood came out to watch and the children had to be locked out of the shrine to stop them pestering us for money. The simple brickwork is beautifully done, with a gorgeous domed ceiling dotted with small holes allowing light to stream down. Magical. [This shrine has now been reclassified as belonging to Zumurrud Khatoun, wife of the Caliph Al-Mustadhi Bi-Amrillah in 1202 AD]
Next we went onto a Sufi shrine, being renovated to a far higher standard than the others. There were glorious calligraphy detailed tiles at the entrance, probably early 13th century, Original patches of highly decorated tiles are doted around the inside of the shrine, sited under a domed ceiling.
We then climbed onto the roof and were shocked to find a sealed chamber that had been broken into and hundreds of intact pilgrims’ pots (circa 13th & 14th century) left exposed, ready to be looted. Some tiles had also been stacked up, ready to be taken away, so we put them back in the niche. We could see other sealed chambers, likely due to be similarly treated (by the builders doing the renovation?).
The head of the shrine came over to greet us. He had a wonderful, warm smile and he made us very welcome. We were all given a blessing and a wave as we left.
Our last stop was the Baghdad Commonwealth War Graves, where allied 1st and 2nd World War troops are buried. It was overgrown, despite G having found it neat and tidy in May. We were told that they only cut the knobbly spinifex type grass with sharp thorns twice a year and they need an excavator to do it. I’ve never seen a war Cemetery so badly maintained and it’s very hard to walk around the graves. We read the inscriptions for the Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Arab, Polish and British – roughly a 1,000 in all. There was some graffiti at the entrance gate but apart from that the grave markers look ok.
We stopped for falafel pitta at the place used by the nearby police checkpoint and caused quite a stir when we sat down on the white plastic chairs to eat.The City is in a completely different mood today. It’s very relaxed and we weren’t stopped at all at the noticeably fewer checkpoints. A passing patrol bantered with me for not wearing a headscarf. We were let into shrines relatively quickly and we even had more smiles.
We stopped off at the only stationers to try to find some postcards and were delighted to find that he had now put up a revolving rack since our last visit, rather than leave them gathering dust on the lowest shelf.
We’d been promised a leaving treat, dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was a nice gesture but the place was very odd. There was a man performing easy listening songs, accompanied by a Yamaha organ. It had a vaguely Italian style but the canned beer was totally flat and the “South African” wine was horrible. The beers were a 12,000D ($10) rip off and the wine 40,000 but it served us right for trying to order alcohol in a dry country.