Baghdad, the city of books

This article is also available in: Italiano

Baghdad, one of the most famous cities in the entire Islamic world, famous for its size, beauty and, above all, for its incredible Bayt al Hikmah, one of the most legendary centers of knowledge that history remembers.

The words of Ibn Battuta

Then we arrived in Baghdad, “House of Peace” and the capital of Islam, a city of excellent merits and noble rank, seat of caliphs elected by the wise as a place to stay.

Baghdad, at the center of history

The city was founded in 765, as a new capital, at the behest of Al Mansur, the second Abbasid caliph, near Seleucia al Tigris and Ctesiphone, the first capital of the Seleucid Empire and the second of the Sassanid one; definitely a land full of good wishes. The origin of the name is uncertain but it seems that it derives from the ancient Persian “Bagh” and “Dad”, or “gift of God”; however the city was called for a long time Madinat As-Salam, meaning “city of peace”, a name that remained popular until the eleventh century. The peculiarity of Baghdad was then its “round city”, the original nucleus of the metropolis, consisting of a circle of exactly 1 km in diameter. The city then had 4 gates: Bab al Kufa, Bab al Sham, Bab al Khorasan and Bab al Basra.

The famous “Round City”

In a few years it became the largest center of the Arab-Islamic world, becoming the first city in the world to exceed one million inhabitants, coming from every corner of the world. It was here that many of the famous tales of “The Thousand and One Nights” were set, in which the caliph Harun Al Rashid, an authentic star of those times and a profound innovator of Baghdad, was often present.

Bayt al Hikmah

It was thanks to his passion for reading that the famous Bayt al Hikmah, the “House of Wisdom”, one of the most legendary places of study in human history, was formed in the city. Starting from its private library, this place expanded more and more, becoming public and giving the possibility to consult over half a million volumes. The number is even more impressive if we consider that, in Europe, libraries never reached more than a thousand volumes, moreover of thematic mainly theological and in Latin, while in Baghdad there was an embarrassment of choice for themes and languages. Furthermore, the Bayt al Hikmah also served as a university, hospital and astronomical observatory, resulting as the best center of knowledge in the world for several centuries.

Dar Al Hikmah hosted scholars of the caliber of Al Kwarizmi, Al Kindi and Al Razi

With the movement of the capital to Samarra in 835, the city began a phase of decline, which culminated in 1258 with the siege of the Mongols by Hulegu Khan and the subsequent destruction of the famous library, as well as with the extermination of 800,000 civilians. From that moment on, the city will never fully recover, returning de facto to shine again only with the birth of modern Iraq.

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