The Way Baghdad Was

Published July 24, 2014
Updated October 29, 2019

Even before the United States set its sights on Baghdad, people began to note its decline. Long considered to be the intellectual capital of the Islamic world, in the early 1900s the Iraqi city had already begun its transformation into a “once was”.

Centuries of Ottoman rule and over a decade of British occupation allowed sectarian divides to fester, and would only culminate following the country’s 1932 independence and exploitation of oil. Around a century later, the formerly sophisticated center of Mesopotamia is embroiled ceaseless conflict, war and strife. Looking back to its days of normalcy makes present-day Baghdad all the more haunting. These 1932 photos courtesy of Foreign Policy show a Baghdad before the turmoil of the past half century.

Baghdad Streets
Baghdad Shoe Sellers Market
Baghdad Donkeys Markets
Baghdad Old Man Mosque
The Way Baghdad Was
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As British painter Tristram J. Ellis wrote, "All those who are acquainted with the past history of Baghdad, and the glowing descriptions of its buildings and streets in the time of the Caliphs, will think the present city very mean, and it is so, compared with almost any other great Oriental city."