Mesopotamia, the alluvial land between the Euphrates and Tigris, is considered the cradle of civilization. Settled since the Paleolithic, one of the first high cultures in world history with cities and city-states, its own script and number system, formulated laws and extensive trade relations developed over 5000 years ago in the marshland of southern Mesopotamia. The marshland forms a valuable ecosystem in the rain-poor region and, together with the ruins of Ur, Uruk and Eridu, was designated a natural and cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016.
Al-Ahwar Marshlands and Remnants of Mesopotamian Cities in Southern Iraq: Facts
|Official title:||Al-Ahwar marshland in southern Iraq – protected area of biodiversity and relic landscape of Mesopotamian cities|
|Cultural and natural monument:||Uruk, the biblical Erech and today’s ruin hill Warka, is about 270 km south of Baghdad; up to the 5th millennium BC Settlement dating back to BC, due to the relocation of the Euphrates river bed in the 5th century BC. Left BC; circular city layout with a nine-kilometer-long city wall; Main place of worship of the goddess Inanna (Ishtar) with temple area; Early Sumerian finds (Uruk vase, hunting stele, limestone woman’s head [»Lady of Warka«]); Palace of King Sinkaschid on the western outskirts from the ancient Babylonian period (around 1800 BC).Ur, Abraham’s homeland according to the Old Testament, was settled from the Neolithic to the Achaemenid period, is now under the hill of ruins Tell Mukajir 150 km west of Basra; Excavations by American and British archaeologists (1922–34) brought to light an oval city complex, in the center the sanctuary of the moon god Nanna-Sin and his wife Ningal; Precious grave goods from the 1st Dynasty of Ur (around 2500 BC), including artistic metal and precious stone work as well as inlay work (so-called original standard); between 2112 and 2004 BC The ziggurat for the moon god Nanna, temple courtyard, courthouse, treasury and palace of the 3rd dynasty arose from previous buildings.
Eridu, today’s hill of ruins of Tell Abu-Schahrein, 11 km southwest of Ur; Main sanctuary of Enki with ziggurat (including finds of terracotta figures) and palaces from the early dynastic period (around 2800 to 2400 BC); until the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC Chr.; because of silting up in the first or already in the second millennium BC Abandoned BC.
The Al-Ahwar marshland forms one of the largest inland deltas in the world in an extremely dry environment; the four sub-areas are spawning grounds for some marine fish species; A resting place for millions of migratory birds and a habitat for endangered animals such as marbled duck and Basra warbler, soft-fur otter and Euphrates softshell turtle.
|Meaning:||unique testimony to a lost culture and an excellent example of the interaction between man and the environment; the four sub-areas of the marshland offer significant habitats for biological diversity|
Land “between the rivers”
The Euphrates, with its source river Murat, is 3380 kilometers long, making it the longest river in the Middle East. Like the 1900-kilometer-long Tigris, it rises in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey. The Euphrates and Tigris cross Iraq from northwest to southeast and enclose the vast lower Iraqi lowlands. Southeast of Baghdad, both rivers form an extensive swamp delta with rich reeds before they unite near the city of Basra to form the Shatt al-Arab and flow into the Persian Gulf. At the time of the Sumerians, the common estuary did not yet exist. The coastline lay more than two hundred kilometers inland and was shifted further and further into the sea by sediment deposits.
The river sediments also formed the livelihood of the Sumerians. After the annual floods in spring, fertile mud remained in the fields, which guaranteed good harvests. But the farmers always had problems with the uneven water levels. Therefore, they developed a system of irrigation and drainage canals that regulated the water supply to the fields and enabled cultivation even further away from the rivers. In this way, the food supply for a constantly growing population could be ensured.
The first cities
In the 4th millennium BC, the first cities with several thousand residents grew out of the settlements along the rivers in southern Mesopotamia. The center of the fortified city complex was the monumental temple complex with the ziggurat, the step tower. The city princes, who also held the office of high priest, resided here. And this is where the oldest known writing system, the cuneiform script, originated. With it, administrative processes and trading transactions could be registered and processed much more easily.
According to tradition, Eridu, originally located on a lagoon in the Persian Gulf, was the oldest city in southern Mesopotamia. The most important city-state of Sumer was Uruk, and its most famous king, Gilgamesh, became the hero of the famous Gilgamesh epic. Uruk rivaled other city-states – including Lagasch, Kisch and the port city of Ur – for supremacy in southern Mesopotamia (from around 2800 BC). After the conquest by the Akkadians (around 2334 BC) and the foreign rule of the Guteans (from 2153 BC), the 3rd Dynasty of Ur saw the last time Sumerian rule and a cultural renaissance (around 2112-2004 B.C.).
The marshland on the lower reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris is the settlement area of the Madan, who see themselves as descendants of the ancient Sumerians. They traditionally live from rice cultivation and fishing, raise water buffalo and build their houses out of reeds. The regulation of the rivers and the construction of large dams have narrowed their living space more and more in the last few decades. As followers of Shiite Islam, the Madan were also oppressed and persecuted by the former Iraqi head of state and government, Saddam Husain. In the 1980s and 1990s, he had the marshland largely drained, drove the residents away or had them executed. After the dictator was overthrown in 2003, the marshland was flooded again. Since then, the Euphrates and Tigris have been slowly reclaiming the wetlands.