A delegation from the World Monuments Fund and the U.S. State Department visit the archaeological site of Babylon, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, on June 24, 2009. A report issued by UNESCO on July 10 says that U.S. troops and contractors in Iraq inflicted serious damage on Babylon.
Four Thousand Years
One of the world's most important archaeological sites, Babylon is mentioned in cuneiform texts dating back to the Akkadian period (2371-2230 B.C.). During the Neo-Babylonian period (626--539 B.C.) it became the largest city of its time.
Wonder of the Ancient World
Babylon was home of kings Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.), who introduced one of the first written codes of law, and Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C.), who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The location and ancient layout of the city of Babylon remained unknown for centuries until the 1800s. Systematic excavations began in 1899 under German archaeologist Robert Koldewey, who unearthed famous palaces and religious buildings, as well as the Ishtar Gate.
"Saddam Was Here"
A sign on a wall of the ancient city reads in Arabic, "On the reign of the victorious Saddam Hussein the president of the republic." In 1978 Hussein officially commenced the "Archaeological Restoration of Babylon Project," in which several ancient buildings were reconstructed and modern facilities for tourists added. Some construction, including a new palace for Hussein, was damaging to the site.
Although excavations have progressed at Babylon over the last hundred years, some parts of the ancient city still remain buried beneath the earth.
A view of Babylon. During the 2003 war, the Nebuchadnezzar and Hammurabi Museums in Hilla were broken into and everything stolen or shattered -- much of it plaster replicas of original pieces. Everything in the Babylon Library and Archive was destroyed, including important reports, maps, and excavation records. Offices were broken into, and whatever thieves could not carry off they burned.
Invasion of Babylon
In April 2003 Babylon was occupied by coalition forces, who instituted Camp Alpha. The UNESCO report says that coalition forces and contractors drove heavy machinery over sacred paths, bulldozed hilltops, and dug trenches through the archaeological site.
U.S. Army soldiers tour the rebuilt ruins of Babylon, Iraq on Oct. 20, 2004. As have many armies who have passed through the gates of the 4,000-year-old city, American forces have left their mark, in graffiti scratched into walls constructed by Saddam Hussein.
A Polish soldier checks his Army's Armored Personnel Carrier just outside the ancient City of Babylon on July 16, 2003, shortly before control of the military camp was handed over from U.S. Marines to Polish troops from the multinational force. In the background is the palace of ousted Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.
A U.S. Army soldier is seen at the archaeological site of Babylon, June 24, 2009.
Beginning in 2004, UNESCO and Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage began a damage assessment of the site, to detail all interventions on the archaeological site and monuments prior to and following the 2003 invasion.
UNESCO found 13 defensive trenches had been dug near the presidential palace and other sites. After the U.S. invasion, more trenches were dug, including a 162-m.-long trench which penetrated undisturbed archaeological deposits. Soil containing pottery fragments and baked brick fragments with inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar was removed. This trench has begun to collapse, causing additional damage.
There was also damage to reconstructed buildings. Part of the Ninmakh Temple's roof collapsed and cracked; UNESCO says a contributing factor may have been vibrations from constant air traffic coming from the close-by helipad. Fractures and openings can also be seen in the walls of various buildings.
An Iraqi soldier walks in front of the Ishtar Gate, a ritual gate leading into the northern part of the inner city, Sept. 18, 2008. The damage to the gate includes smashed bricks on nine of the bodies of the animals adorning the gate. These animals depict the legendary dragonsnake, the symbol of Marduk, the god of the city of Babylon.
Dr. Donny George, director of research at the ministry of antiquities, shows a cuneiform tablet stolen from an excavation site at Babylon and offered for sale to a museum, and a Sumerian statue (c. 2,700 B.C.) at a 2003 Baghdad press conference. On the right, recovered antiquities, some stolen from the Babylon Museum, are displayed at a police station in Basra last December.