Babylon's future written in its ruins

Tue Feb 10, 2009 8:47pm EST
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By Khalid al-Ansary

BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) - For a site whose historical importance ranks with Egypt's Pyramids, the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon has suffered some rough treatment.

In recent times, U.S. troops and allied armies have parked tanks and weapons on the site in southern Iraq and used earth containing ancient fragments to fill their sandbags.

Looters ransacked its treasures, and before that Saddam Hussein "restored" parts of it using new bricks bearing his name and built a kitsch palace overlooking it.

Now officials hope Babylon can be revived and made ready for a rich future of tourism, with help from experts at the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the U.S. embassy.

"The Future of Babylon" project launched last month seeks to "map the current conditions of Babylon and develop a master plan for its conservation, study and tourism," the WMF says.

"We don't know how long it will take to reopen to tourists," said Mariam Omran Musa, head of a government inspection team based at the site. "It depends on funds. I hope that Babylon can be reborn in a better image."

Fabled home of the Hanging Gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world, and lying in a region ancient historians call the cradle of civilization, Babylon was badly damaged during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to overthrow Saddam.

Looters had been plundering the ancient site, about 85 miles south of Baghdad for centuries, but the pillage accelerated rapidly after the invasion, when thousands of other archaeological sites in Iraq were also targeted.   Continued...

<p>Iraqi soldiers walk past a replica of the Ishtar Gate of Ancient Babylon, 135 km (85 miles) south of Baghdad, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Atef Hassan</p>