Under Threat: Baghdad’s ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ Houses

By Ahmad al-Rubaie.

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Central Baghdad is famous as the setting for many of the ancient tales in One Thousand And One nights. However many of the houses, located on prime commercial real estate, are under threat from owners’ greed, developers and lack of a preservation budget.

For around 200 years, Saad al-Azzawi and his family have lived in the same house in central Baghdad. And recently al-Azzawi was considering selling his home to the Ministry of Culture so that they could preserve it. But he changed his mind.

“There are other investors who offered me a much higher price, compared to the trivial amount the Ministry offered,” al-Azzawi says. Al-Azzawi had wanted to renovate their historic home but his family could not afford it and they have yet to receive any of the state subsidies they are entitled to, to complete the job.

“We might have to renovate the house at our own expense,” al-Azzawi says. “But because we haven’t received any subsidies that will probably have to be in a way that diminishes the house’s history.”

Al-Azzawi is not the only owner of a historic house who is thinking this way. Officials suggest that there are almost 2,000 heritage buildings in Baghdad that are in bad repair or threatened with destruction. A lot of the central city is famous as the setting of various tales in the famous A Thousand And One Nights compilation of stories, first thought to have been put together in this region in the 10th century. Many of those historic houses are located near some of Baghdad’s busiest commercial streets.

“And everybody is aware of the high prices of land in this area because the land could be used to build a hotel or a shopping mall,” says another of the historic homes’ owners, Majid al-Dahabi – his place is located in the Kadhimiya area. “Although it’s in bad shape, a lot of investors have already offered to buy my place,” he told NIQASH. “But the house is protected and I am not actually allowed to sell it. So I haven’t done anything about it. I’m waiting for the government to do something.”

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