From Saddam’s Palace to Museum

Interesting plans to convert a palace built by Saddam Hussein into a museum near Basra:

John Curtis, head of the British Museum’s Department of the Ancient Near East – the first foreign museum expert in the world to visit Iraq – said: “The building … has the advantage of a rather wonderful setting, where you could one day have a beautiful garden with fountains.”

He added: “This is terribly important in the regeneration of Basra and the wider region. While all kinds of infrastructural projects like electricity, water, hospitals and schools are being tackled, cultural resources are almost entirely lacking … not just a museum but even a public library.”

The original museum recording the region’s 5,000-year-old history, which includes some of the richest archaeological sites in the world, was ransacked by looters during the Gulf war in 1991. The city was also the legendary home of Sinbad the sailor, an association that fuelled a flourishing tourist trade which has been destroyed by the wars.

What remained of the museum’s collection, which included beautiful vases, terracotta and stone figures, bronze weapons, jewellery, thousands of cuneiform inscribed clay tablets and carved seals, was transferred for safekeeping to the national museum in Baghdad, just before the start of the allied attack in 2003. Ironically, the Baghdad museum’s own collection was one of the worst casualties of the war, with hundreds of pieces still missing, but the Basra collection, with those of other provincial museums, remained safe in a sealed store which was not discovered by the looters.

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