Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 6 News List

The fall and rise and fall and rise of Babylon

RECOVERING ARTIFACTS The ancient city on the Euphrates has had another great fall, and now the Americans are trying to put it back together again -- brick by brick


The ancient City of Babylon as viewed from one of the palaces that once belonged to ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, 80km south of Baghdad on July 16. This 4,300-year-old town -- now mainly an archaeological ruin with two important museums -- knows political and military upheaval well.


This 4,300-year-old town -- now mainly an archaeological ruin with two important museums -- knows political and military upheaval well. Dynasties have risen and have fallen here since the earliest days of settled human civilization.

King Hammurabi wrote his famous code of laws here.

Nebuchadnezzar sent his vast army from here to Jerusalem to put down an uprising and bring the Jews back as slaves.

Some say Alexander the Great, who lead his great army out of Macedonia to conquer most of the known world, died here in 332 BC.

The American military is just the latest to pass through the Euphrates River city. And now US soldiers and civilian occupation officials struggle with mixed success to put the city -- with its deep resonance in so many important cultures -- back together yet again.

The newest of the conquerors who have washed through the fertile crescent for millennia have held the site of the Hanging Gardens -- one of the seven wonders of the ancient world -- for a mere 3 1/2 months.

The Americans are cleaning up after mobs of looters ransacked the city's two museums, but fortunately got away mainly with small display copies of ancient artifacts. Museum managers, fearing looting as the US-led coalition threatened war, bricked up the museum windows.

The looters, however, yanked air conditioners out walls and climbed in and out of the holes carting off the display copies of humankind's earliest handiwork. Most of the real artifacts were stored in vaults at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, which also was looted. It is not known what portion of the stored Babylonian museum treasures have been lost.

Fortunately the makeshift holes were too small for looters to escape with the large pieces in the city's two museums, named after Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar.

Nearly two weeks after Saddam Hussein fell on April 9, US Marines entered Babylon to find dozens of vendors had flooded into the streets as looters robbed the museums, souvenir shops, a restaurant and the police station. US troops said they moved swiftly to stop the lawlessness.

``On my first day here, I caught many people. ... We had to arrest few looters at that time,'' said US Navy Chaplain Commander Emilio Marrero, project official of the site. ``[We] pushed everybody outside the gate so that we could preserve the city.''

Since then Babylon has been closed to the public, but Marines hope to reopen the site within two months, Marrero said. The Marines have created a major base at the city, calling it Camp Babylon.

``We took over the compound because of the need that we saw here in the ruins and in the museums and the surrounding area,'' he said.


Mariam Omran, director of Babylon's two museums, said they were both looted but ``most of the pieces in the museums were certified copies not real relics. All the display cases were damaged as was a miniature model of the old city.''

Marrero said only three actual relics were displayed in the Nebuchadnezzar museum. They disappeared with all the display copies. He said the Americans were trying to recover the pieces and had found some.

``Most of the relics that belong to this place are up at the museum of Baghdad and they've been up there since 1989,'' he said.

The first people to settle and build in Babylon were the Akkadians, who called the city Akkad. King Sargon I was the founder of the dynasty that lasted just two centuries.

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