Basra, “The Overseer”

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“Border” is perhaps the best word to describe the city of Basra, the largest Iraqi center located on Shatt al Arab, the natural border between the Arab and Persian world.

The words of Ibn Battuta

A universally known metropolis in Iraq, Basra is huge, boasts elegant squares and gardens with exquisite fruit, and is as splendid as it is opulent as it is located at the confluence of two seas, one brackish and the other freshwater

The Overseer

The city was born in 692 from the foundations of the military camp of the Arab commander Utba bin Ghazwan with the name of Basrah, or “Overseer”. This was due to its position, literally on the border with Khuzestan, the first ever Persian territory. The metropolis is also symbolic for its governor, Ubayd Allah bin Zayed, one of the greatest architects of the split between the Shiite and Sunni world. In 680 it was the latter, at the time also governor of Kufa, who commanded the extermination of Hussein and all his followers, causing a fracture never resolved since then.


With the birth of Baghdad, Basra became one of the central destinations for trade with the East, so much so that the length of its pier even exceeded 10 km. Starting from 820, however, the city suffered several revolts within a few years, gradually making them lose their importance. As for the capital, with the arrival of the Mongols in 1258 things got worse and worse, so much so that Ibn Battuta described it as a center in both material and moral decay. With the fall of the Islamic empire, Basra became the most important metropolis on the Arab-Persian border, a position also consolidated by its dominion over the Shatt al Arab. For this reason, the city turned into an outpost of central importance, always ending up being a decisive part of the conflicts between the two worlds.

Shatt al Arab

The watercourse marks the real natural border between the two worlds and this both culturally and geographically. The Shatt al Arab, or “River of the Arabs” is in fact the result of the union of the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, the last part of the watercourse before joining the sea of the Persian Gulf.

The Shatt al Arab

On this mirror Arabs and Persians have always clashed, constantly alternating their dominion over it. Even the name, in reality, is the result of clash, as the Persians call the stream Arvand Rud, or “rapid river”, a name given to the Tigris in the Shahhname. The solution of the conflict regarding the Shatt al Arab border came only in 1975 when Saddam Hussein and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi signed the Algiers agreements, which remained so even after the war between the two countries.

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