According to historic evidences the site of Baghdad was occupied by several tribes. The historic center of Baghdad finds mention even in the Talmud. Though the Arab had conquered Mesopotamia in 637 CE, there was no settlement in the region. In ancient times several mighty empires had their capitals located around modern Baghdad. The city was, however, only founded in 762 CE.
On July 30, 762, Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur, the second ruler of the Abbāsid dynasty decreed that a new capital would be constructed at the site of the Persian village called Baghdad, somewhere midway between present-day Al-Kāẓimiyyah and Al-Karkh. He envisioned a capital that would be a “Madīnat al-Salām” or “City of Peace.” The “Round City” of Baghdad was built within circular walls which were about 3,000 yards (2,700 meters) in diameter. The city was built to be more of a residential city than a seat of governmental administration. The three concentric walls divided the capital into four equal quarters. Right at the center of Baghdad was the Caliph Al-Mansur’s palace – often called the palace with golden gates – and the grand mosque of the empire.
While the Caliph and his retinue were housed inside the city walls, Baghdad saw a very quick expansion beyond these confines.To the south of the city, the AL-Karkh district grew as a trade and business hub with local merchants and traders setting up bazaars and souqs. The northeast of Baghdad was connected to the Tigris River by the Khurasan road. The suburbs of Al-Mukharrim, Al-Shammāsiyyah, and Ruṣāfah sprung up to join the ever-expanding city limits. By 930 CE, Baghdad had blossomed into a technologically superlative and aesthetically brilliant city. It is believed that Baghdad was possibly the world’s biggest city between 762 CE and 930 CE. Its many beautiful parks, gardens, and fountains led Persian poets to call the capital “Paradise on Earth”.
Through the 8th and the 9th centuries, Baghdad continued to attract intellectuals, poets, artists, and traders. The city became a thriving cultural hub. Trade with China, India, and Africa started to prosper. By the time Caliph al-Mahdī (Reign – 775 to 785) and his successor, Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (Reign – 786 to 809) came to power Baghdad had reached the heights of its economic and cultural stature. The Thousand and One Nights – written during this period captures the beauty and riches of Baghdad at the time. But the decline of the Abbāsid capital was near at hand.
By the mid-9th century the Abbāsid Caliphate started to show signs of decline. Internal strife caused by an embittered war between Hārūn al-Rashīd’s sons was compounded by crop failure, administrative neglect, and nomadic invasions in the 10th century. The caliphs briefly abandoned Baghdad in favor of Samarra between 836 and 892. But by the time they reclaimed the erstwhile capital, the city had fallen into ruin partly due to the Turkish dominance and partly due to neglect. The city subsequently fell into the hands of the Būyid dynasty between 945 and 1055 and the Turkish Seljūq dynasty between 1055 and 1152. The most devastating blow to Baghdad’s glory, however, was to come in the 13th century when the Mongol conqueror Hülegü, the grandson of Genghis Khan, seized, plundered, and ravaged the city.
Hülegü also murdered the reigning caliph and massacred thousands of residents. The damage to the city infrastructure, especially the irrigation and drainage system was the most devastating blow, from which Baghdad could not recover for many years to come. The city became almost unlivable. Over the next few years Baghdad was rebuilt in parts but never regained its former glory.
As the Mongol rulers established their authority of Iran, Baghdad was designated to remain a provincial capital. As the seat of provincial administration, it was first ruled by the Il-Khanid dynasty (1258–1339), and then by the Jalāyirids (1339–1410) who were appointed by the former. Neither did much to improve the lot of the city. In the meanwhile the city fell to another disastrous pillage in 1401, by Timur. Soon two successive dynasties ruled over Baghdad – the Ak Koyunlu and the Kara Koyunlu. The city kept failing at recuperation.
Baghdad passed through the hands of Shah Ismāʿīl I of the Ṣafavid dynasty as he created the new Iranian Empire in 1508 and was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1534. Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman I took the city and subsequent Ottoman rulers managed to hold on to its administration despite recurrent Persian attacks.
In the late 1700’s and the 19th century the British and French took much interest in Baghdad. In 1798 a permanent British diplomatic residency was established in the city giving it a much needed boost. Baghdad was resurrected with a growing European influence and due to an increase in trade with European nations. A number of governors took interest in the modernization of the city. Midhat Pasa introduced the telegraph, and printing press and set up many factories, schools and hospitals in the city initiating it to modern ways.
Currently, the city of Baghdad, often referred to as Baghdad Shareef due to its glorious past, is currently the capital and the largest city of the Republic of Iraq. With a population of 7.216 million (2011), it is also currently the second largest city in the Arab world. The Iraq War commenced in 2003 and the subsequent US-led occupation of the country lasted till 2011, leading up to large-scale infrastructure damage in the capital city. Over the past few years Baghdad has been the scene of many insurgency activities and terrorist attacks. While Iraq is heartily engaged in rebuilding the capital city, Baghdad still remains one of the least hospitable cities of the world. In 2012, it was ranked by Mercer as the worst among 221 major cities of the world going by the quality-of-life. Following the invasion of the US, ARCADD announced a $13 billion plan to privately rebuild the city. The Baghdad Renaissance Plan provides for a new central business district and many aesthetic additions to the city. The plan, however, was forced to go on hold due to security concerns. Iraqis and other Arab nations have been keenly looking forward to rebuilding the golden and glorious legacy of Baghdad.
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