Babylon Is Targeted in Project of World Monuments Fund and IraqBloomberg. Patrick Cole
The World Monuments Fund is launching a project with Iraq to preserve the ancient city of Babylon, where King Nebuchadnezzar II (630-562 B.C.) built his hanging gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The New York-based nonprofit group, which protects architectural and cultural sites, will work with Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to develop a master plan to promote conservation and tourism in the city, located about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad on the east bank of the Euphrates.
“Future tourism will be one of the tools for economic development in Iraq, and we fear that Babylon could be eaten up by unmanaged development like the paving of roads,” World Monuments President Bonnie Burnham said in a phone interview. “The city has never been mapped, and there have been very dramatic changes to it.”
The U.S. Department of State has given the fund about $700,000 for the project, called “The Future of Babylon,” Holly Evarts, the fund’s spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. The organization is seeking more funding from other sources, she said.
“Iraqi heritage belongs to all humanity,” Samir Sumaida’ie, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., said in a statement. “In the immense task of caring for its world heritage, Iraq welcomes help from and collaborations with the international preservation community.”
The ancient city, founded around the 18th century B.C., has sustained damage in recent years from Saddam Hussein’s efforts to make it a tourist attraction, from looting after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and from being used as a military base during the Iraq War.
The World Monuments Fund’s project marks the second initiative this decade to aid Babylon. In October 2003, the fund partnered with the Getty Conservation Institute to set up the Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative to help preserve museums, archeological and historical sites in Iraq.
Founded in 1965, the fund has worked to preserve about 500 historical sites in some 90 countries around the world, ranging from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London to Route 66, an east-west highway in the U.S. The fund placed the nation of Iraq on its list of 100 most endangered sites in 2006 and 2008.
Others sites in Iraq targeted for restoration by the fund include the ancient region of Sumer and sites associated with the Babylonian, Assyrian and Parthian cultures.
This year the fund will begin teaching board of antiquities specialists in Iraq modern techniques of site evaluation and restoration. It also wants to develop a national database for mapping and managing thousands of cultural heritage sites in that nation.