|The Ishtar Gate is located at the ancient archaeological site of Babylon, in the southern part of Baghdad. AFP photo|
At ancient Babylon’s Ishtar Gate, Iraqi workers labor with a heavy saw, hammers, a chisel and crowbar to break up and remove a concrete slab that is hastening the structure’s decay.
The concrete lies between the two long, towering walls of tan bricks decorated with processions of bulls and dragons that make up the more than 2,500-year-old Ishtar Gate, in what is now Iraq’s Babil province.
The masonry slab was laid during the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule. Removing the concrete is deemed essential to preserving the Ishtar Gate at Babylon, which also served as the base for a later gate of the same name, the reassembled remains of which are now located in Germany.
In the 1980s, “there was a large intervention of modern masonry inserted behind the facades” of the Ishtar Gate, in addition to “changes in the terrain behind, and resurfacing of the base of the gate with concrete,” said Jeff Allen, field manager for the Future of Babylon project which is carrying out the work.
All of those factors are accelerating “the rate of damage at the site, and decay, and what we’re doing at Ishtar Gate is trying to arrest or to slow down those mechanisms that are causing the gate to collapse,” Allen said.
Removing the concrete “will allow the ground to breathe and evaporate water, because at the present time... the water cannot escape, so it routes through the easiest direction to get to the surface,” which is through the gate itself, he said.
The Future of Babylon project is a joint effort between the World Monuments Fund, which works to save key cultural heritage sites, and Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.
History of abuse
Babylon, one of the most famed cities of antiquity and now an important archaeological site, has a long history of damage and abuse. Iraq has unsuccessfully sought to have Babylon admitted to the UNESCO World Heritage List, but plans to try again.
“Our work now is to restore Babylon and complete the file of Babylon to include it in the World Heritage List,” said Hussein al-Amari, the top Iraqi antiquities official in Babil province, but this requires large sums of money.