Cities in Iraq: Basra

Cities in Iraq: Basra Last updated on Tuesday 20th April 2010

Iraq's second largest city and main seaport, Basra is situated 130km from the Gulf and 550km south-east of Baghdad.

Originally intended as a military base, the city was founded in AD637 by Caliph Omar. During the 16th century it became an important departure point for Arab trading ships sailing to the Far East.

Because of its location, it was the site of many battles between the Turks -- as it was at this time part of the Ottoman Empire -- and invading Persians or Marsh Arabs.

A Persian attack in 1624 was successfully thwarted by Caliph Ali Pasha and a period of peace and stability ensued. At this time Basra became an important centre for thinkers and poets, but fighting against the Marsh Arabs resumed under the rule of Ali Pasha's son, so this peaceful period was regrettably short.

Modern Basra consists of three main areas:

Ashar, which is the old commercial centre, including the Corniche and the bazaars

Margil, which includes the port and modern residential areas

Basra proper, which is the old residential area, where many beautiful, old-style houses are to be found.

There are three museums in Basra -- the Floating Navy Museum, containing war relics; the Basra Museum, containing some Sumerian, Babylonian and Islamic objects; and the Museum for Martyrs of the Persian Aggression, containing displays relating to the sufferings of the ordinary people of Basra during the Iran-Iraq War.

Basra's Bazaar in the Ashar district is full of old houses with balconies leaning over into the narrow streets and beautiful wooden facades in the style of old Arab architecture. It once contained a gold bazaar, selling fine pieces of gold jewellery, but it is not known whether this is still in existence.

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