An 8th-century map of Baghdad’s Round City

I found this artist’s reconstruction of the  Round city of Baghdad as it looked in the 8th century,which was already the largest city in the world.

baghdad

It’s official name was The City of Peace, and within a generation of its founding became a hub of learning and commerce, reaching an estimated one million inhabitants at its peak. Many of the One Thousand and One Nights tales are set in Baghdad during this period. The city eclipsed the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located just 30 km to the southeast and became quickly deserted after the foundation of Baghdad…

There are some facts about the foundation and early history of the round city of Baghdad:

  • Its official name in Abbasid times was The City of Peace.
  • Baghdad eclipsed Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire, which was located some 30 km (19 mi) to the southeast, which had been under Muslim control since 637, and which became quickly deserted after the foundation of Baghdad. The site of Babylon, which had been deserted since the 2nd century, lies some 90 km (56 mi) to the south.
  • The original design shows a ring of residential and commercial structures along the inside of the city walls, but the final construction added another ring, inside the first.
  • The circular design of the city was a direct reflection of the traditional Persian Sasanian urban design. The ancient Sasanian city of Gur/Firouzabad is nearly identical in its general circular design, radiating avenues, and the government buildings and temples at the center of the city. This style of urban planning contrasted with Ancient Greek and Roman urban planning, in which cities are designed as squares or rectangles with streets intersecting each other at right angles.
  • The city’s growth was helped by its excellent location, based on at least two factors: it had control over strategic and trading routes along the Tigris; the abundance of water in a dry climate. Water exists on both the north and south ends of the city, allowing all households to have a plentiful supply, which was very uncommon during this time.
  • Over 100,000 construction workers came to survey the plans; many were distributed salaries to start the building of the city.
  • Each gate had double doors that were made of iron; the doors were so heavy it took several men to open and close them. The wall itself was about 44 m thick at the base and about 12 m thick at the top. Also, the wall was 30 m high, which included merlons, a solid part of an embattled parapet usually pierced by embrasures. This wall was surrounded by another wall with a thickness of 50 m. The second wall had towers and rounded merlons, which surrounded the towers. This outer wall was protected by a solid glacis, which is made out of bricks and quicklime. Beyond the outer wall was a water-filled moat.
  • The two designers who were hired by Al-Mansur to plan the city’s design were Naubakht, a Zoroastrian who also determined that the date of the foundation of the city would be astrologically auspicious, and Mashallah, a Jew from Khorasan, Iran.
  • Within a generation of its founding, Baghdad became a hub of learning and commerce. The House of Wisdom was an establishment dedicated to the translation of Greek, Middle Persian and Syriac works. Scholars headed to Baghdad from all over the Abbasid Caliphate, facilitating the introduction of Persian, Greek and Indian science into the Arabic and Islamic world at that time. Baghdad was likely the largest city in the world from shortly after its foundation until the 930s, when it was tied by Córdoba. Several estimates suggest that the city contained over a million inhabitants at its peak. Many of the One Thousand and One Nights tales are set in Baghdad during this period.
  • Among the notable features of Baghdad during this period were its exceptional libraries. Many of the Abbasid caliphs were patrons of learning and enjoyed collecting both ancient and contemporary literature. Although some of the princes of the previous Umayyad dynasty had begun to gather and translate Greek scientific literature, the Abbasids were the first to foster Greek learning on a large scale. Many of these libraries were private collections intended only for the use of the owners and their immediate friends, but the libraries of the caliphs and other officials soon took on a public or a semi-public character.

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