Architecture in Iraq - What Soldiers Saw

men swimming in a large outdoor swimming pool near a fountain and stone pavilions
Off Duty U.S. Soldiers in Saddam Hussein's swimming Pool, the Republican Palace, July 14, 2003, Baghdad, Iraq. Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

Over the years, extraordinary people have been eager to share their experiences. Beyond an exchange of words, the photographs of United States soldiers have enhanced everyone's understanding of our common interest in architecture. The 21st century wars in the Middle East saw high-tech Americans bring us closer to the ancient architecture of Babylon and other places.

Gunnery Sergeant Daniel O'Connell, a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq, toured Babylonian ruins with an Iraqi archaeologist in 2003.  Other soldiers and relief workers have had similar experiences. Here are some of the images of what they have seen in Babylon, Baghdad, and other parts of Iraq.

Aerial View of Saddam Hussein's Palace

overhead view of large masonry building on the top of a hill
Presidential Palace and Ruins of Ancient Babylon (Aerial View). Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, 2003

In this photo taken from a helicopter, you can see Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace and important sites from ancient Babylon.

In this aerial view, you will see:

  • The Euphrates River in the foreground.
  • Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace on the hill.
  • The ancient ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar's palace behind Hussein's palace.
  • Behind the ancient ruins, an open plain where the legendary Tower of Babel, described in the Book of Genesis, might have stood.

Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace

Helicopter view
Photos from Iraq Saddam's Palace, Iraq. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Taken from a helicopter, this photo shows an aerial view of Saddam's Presidential Palace.

It's ironic to note the contrast between the cramped, filthy hiding hole where Saddam Hussein was captured and the lavish, and often garish, palaces he built.

The United Nations has listed eight presidential compounds containing grandiose mansions, luxurious guest villas, vast office complexes, warehouses, and garages. Enormous sums of money went into creating man-made lakes and waterfalls, elaborate gardens, marble rooms, and other luxuries. In total, Saddam Hussein's holdings included about a thousand buildings spread out over some 32 square kilometres (12 square miles).

King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace in Ancient Babylon

Helicopter view
Photos from Iraq King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace in ancient Babylon. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

In these helicopter views, you can see ancient ruins of King Nebuchadnezzar's palace.

Most of the rebuilt ruins were from the time of King Nebuchadnezzar II, approximately 600+ through 586 B.C. Saddam's workforce rebuilt over the actual ruins. The archaeologists were against this, but were powerless from stopping Saddam.

Ancient City of Babylon

War photos from Iraq
Photos from Iraq Marines approach the ancient city of Babylon. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Marines approach the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq.

Ancient Walls of Babylon

604 to 562 B.C.
Photos from Iraq Ancient Walls of Babylon, 604 to 562 B.C. Photo © Louis Sather, taken June 9th, 2003 while on active duty with the United States Army

In its glory, Babylon was surrounded by thick masonry walls ornamented with images of the ancient God of Marduk.

Original Walls of Babylon

604 to 562 B.C.
Photos from Iraq Original Walls of Babylon, 604 to 562 B.C. Photo © Louis Sather, taken June 9th, 2003 while on active duty with the United States Army

In 604 to 562 B.C., thick masonry walls were built around Babylon.

Ancient Walls of Babylon

Images of the ancient God of Marduk ornament walls
Photos from Iraq Images of the ancient God of Marduk ornament walls near the Ishtar gate. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Images of the ancient God of Marduk ornament walls near the Ishtar gate.

Walls of Babylon Rebuit

New bricks stand atop ancient foundations
Photos from Iraq New bricks stand atop ancient foundations at the wall of Babylon. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

New bricks stand atop ancient foundations at the wall of Babylon

Ancient Coliseum of Babylon

Reconstructed ancient coliseum
Photos from Iraq Reconstructed ancient coliseum in Babylon, Iraq. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

The ancient coliseum of Babylon was rebuilt by Saddam Hussein's labor force.

Ancient Coliseum (rebuilt) Babylon, Iraq

Rebuilt by Saddam Hussein's labor force
Photos from Iraq A Marine sits on the steps of the ancient coliseum rebuilt by Saddam Hussein's labor force. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

A Marine sits on the steps of the ancient coliseum rebuilt by Saddam Hussein's labor force.

Abbasid Palace, Baghdad, Iraq

Front portal arch to Abbasid Castle in Baghdad
Abbasid Palace, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo © 2001, Daniel B. Grünberg

This photograph shows the detailed brick carving and tile work on the front portal of the Abbasid Palace in Baghdad.

The Abbasid dynasty, descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, ruled from roughly 750 to 1250 AD. This Palace was built toward the end of the Abbasid period.

Ishtar Gate (Reproduction)

Exact reproduction of the ancient walls with bas relief images
Photos from Iraq Reproduction of the legendary Ishtar Gate (Bab Ishtar) in Babylon. Photo © Louis Sather, taken June 9th, 2003 while on active duty with the United States Army

This photograph shows a full-scale reproduction of the legendary Isthar gateway, an important portal into Babylon.

One hour south of Baghdad, in the ancient city of Babylon, is a copy of the fabled Bab Ishtar Babylon - Door of Babylon. In its glory, Babylon was surrounded by thick masonry walls. Built in 604 to 562 B.C., the tall Isthar Gate, named after a Babylonian god, was ornamented with glazed brick relief images of dragons and young bulls surrounded by blue enameled tiles. The Ishtar Gate we see here is an full-scale reproduction, constructed about fifty years ago as a museum entrance.

A smaller reconstruction of the Ishtar Gateway, made from excavated bricks, is housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Procession Street in Babylon

Wide, walled roadway through the ancient city
Photos from Iraq Procession Street in Babylon. Photo © Louis Sather, taken June 9th, 2003 while on active duty with the United States Army

Procession Street is a wide, walled roadway through the ancient city of Babylon.

Procession Street in Babylon

Roadway to palaces
Photos from Iraq Procession Street in Babylon. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Views of Saddam Hussein's palace and the ancient palace of King Nebuchadnezzar can be seen from Procession Street.

Photographer's notes:

This particular photo was shot from the ancient "Procession Street" that ran outside the walls of King Nebuchadnezzar's fort/palace. All brick work done in the foreground was built by Saddam's labor force.

Archeologists are against building directly on top of actual ancient ruins, as Saddam did. Of course, at that time, no one would argue the fact. Saddam saw himself as a modern day Nebuchadnezzar. In the middle the old ruins are the remains from King Hammurabi's dynasty, approximately 3,750 B.C. In the background is another view of Saddam's presidential palace.

Al Kadhimain Mosque

16th Century Mosaic Tiles
Photos from Iraq Al Kadhimain Mosque, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo © 2003 Jan Oberg, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF)

Elaborate tilework covers the Al Kadhimain Mosque in Baghdad's Al Kadhimain district. The mosque was built in the 16th century.

Al Kadhimain Mosque Detail

Elaborate tilework
Photos from Iraq Al Kadhimain Mosque Detail. Photo © 2003 Jan Oberg, The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF)

This photo shows a detail from the elaborate tilework at the 16th century Al Kadhimain Mosque in Baghdad's Al Kadhimain district.

Damaged Mosque, Baghdad, Iraq (2001)

Damaged by bomb fragments
Photos from Iraq Damaged Mosque, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo © 2001, Daniel B. Grünberg

During his travels, Daniel B. Grünberg observed fifty mosques that had been damaged by bomb fragments and blasts during past warfare in Baghdad.

King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace Courtyard

Walls rebuilt by Saddam Hussein over the ancient site
Photos from Iraq Courtyard of King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

In ancient days, the common folk gathered in the main courtyard of King Nebuchadnezzar's palace. The walls were rebuilt by Saddam Hussein.

King Nebuchadnezzar's Throne

A Marine stands on King Nebuchadnezzar's throne
Photos from Iraq A Marine stands on King Nebuchadnezzar's throne. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

A Marine stands on King Nebuchadnezzar's throne in Babylon.

King Nebuchadnezzar's Throne Room

Note original bricks at the base
Photos from Iraq King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace Throne Room. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

In Nebuchadnezzar's throne room, the bricks at the foundation are original. The others were added by Saddam Hussein's work force.

The throne room of King Nebuchadnezzar II is referred to in the Bible (Book of Daniel, Chapters 1-3).

Brickwork in King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace

Inscribed with praise for rulers old and new
Photos from Iraq Brickwork in King Nebuchadnezzar's Palace. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

In the throne room of King Nebuchadnezzar's palace, Saddam Hussein built much of the brickwork over the ruins.

The original bricks are inscribed with words praising Nebuchadnezzar. Above these, Hussein's workers laid bricks inscribed with the words, "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon."

Ancient ruins of King Hammurabi

Cira 1,750 B.C.
Photos from Iraq Ancient ruins of King Hammurabi in Babylon, Iraq. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Gunnery Sergeant Daniel O'Connell stands with his Iraqi tour guide in the ancient ruins of King Hammurabi.

King Hammurabi created a vast kingdom and many laws, cira 1,750 B.C.

The former Mustansiriya University, Baghdad, Iraq

Remains from medieval culture
Photos from Iraq The former Mustansiriya University, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo © 2001, Daniel B. Grünberg

The medieval Mustansiriya University has survived the centuries and stands tribute to an era when Baghdad was at the center of culture and learning.

Babylon Ruins

Amidst the ruins of ancient Babylon, children look to the future
Photos from Iraq Amidst the ruins of ancient Babylon, children look to the future. Photo © 2003, Daniel O'Connell, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

Amidst the ruins of ancient Babylon, children look to the future.

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Craven, Jackie. "Architecture in Iraq - What Soldiers Saw." ThoughtCo, Jan. 21, 2018, thoughtco.com/architecture-in-iraq-what-soldiers-saw-4065265. Craven, Jackie. (2018, January 21). Architecture in Iraq - What Soldiers Saw. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/architecture-in-iraq-what-soldiers-saw-4065265 Craven, Jackie. "Architecture in Iraq - What Soldiers Saw." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/architecture-in-iraq-what-soldiers-saw-4065265 (accessed February 19, 2018).