Karbala, the city of martyrs

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The most symbolic city ever for the Shiite world, as well as the central node within all Islamic history. Karbala, like Touba, is a city born on faith and nourished by it, with the particularity of being however deeply linked to death

Karbala, in the sign of martyrdom

The name of the city derives from Kar Babel, a series of ancient Babylonian villages that stood around this area. The detail is not accidental and intertwines with the history of this center, born more as a place of memory than as a real urban center. Its history has in fact originated with the famous “battle of Karbala”, which involved Husayn ibn Ali and his family, considered by the Shiites as the 3rd imam, an essential figure for this religious confession.


Around 680 the Prophet’s nephew was killed by order of Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, then governor of Basraand Kufa, who decided to silence the Shiite revolt forever. The fight was a de facto massacre, with 4,000 warriors fielded by the governor against about 70 of Husayn, among whom there were also women and children, all killed on the field. This put an end to Muhammad’s lineage forever, but inaugurated a real birth in the branch of Shiism. Like a phoenix, in fact, this creed grew from its ashes, erecting Karbala as one of its most important symbols ever.

Born from a grave

The few survivors of the massacre were freed 2 years later and, on the way to Mecca and Medina, they stopped for a long time on the battle site, imprinted in their memory as a still open and burning wound. Here they began to remember and pay homage to Ali, Husayn and all the main Shiite figures, repeating the operation about every year. This led, in 685, to the construction of a temple and a sanctuary, laying the foundations of what would become one of the most symbolic cities in the whole of Iraq.


Those places became in fact the first stone of modern Karbala, then modeling the rest of the city, de facto born to host the numerous pilgrims who come every year from all over the world to pay homage to him. Precisely because of its role so central to the Shiite world, this place often became the center of attention of Sunni extremists who often invaded and sacked the area. Among the most striking episodes, the sack operated by the Saudis in 1801, who raided the tomb and temples, as well as exterminating about 3500 faithful, must certainly be mentioned. This attack will lead the Ottomans, then lords of the area, to a massive military intervention, which will move the center of the Shiite world to Najaf, another Iraqi city. Karbala is still considered by the Shiites as the 4th city by sacredness, second only to the “3 canons” (Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem), so much so that every year tens of millions of pilgrims flock to its streets and streets .

P.s. this pilgrimage is not mandatory as the Hajj, but, due to the recent tensions between the Saudis and the Iranian / Shiite world, it has turned into an excellent and more welcoming alternative.

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