Oil rich Basra a monument of neglect

A building in Basra’s Old City is on the verge of collapse. — AFP
A building in Basra's Old City is on the verge of collapse. - AFP

Basra - The latticework windows - also known as mashrabiya - date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.



By AFP

Published: Mon 26 Mar 2018, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 26 Mar 2018, 11:51 PM

As a child, Adnan Khalaf used to marvel at the Iraqi city of Basra's "shanasheel", finely crafted bay windows complete with intricate wooden latticework and ornate stained glass.
Today, the Iraqi retiree can only watch as the hallmarks of his hometown - "the city of shanasheel" - crumble out of neglect.
Authorities in Basra, the capital of Iraq's richest oil province, are struggling to provide the bare minimum of services to its inhabitants, as nepotism and corruption divert lucrative revenues from the black gold. But the southern port city's "golden age" was not all that long ago. At 71, Khalaf remembers it well. He can still name the city's wealthy old families - Jewish, Christian and Muslim - who lived behind elaborate shanasheel in traditional homes along canals of Basra's Old City.
"But the city has been neglected, rubbish has been dumped into its waters," said Khalaf. "No one cares about it anymore."
The latticework windows - also known as mashrabiya - date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, according to Abdelhaq Al Moudhaffar, head of the city's Palace of Culture and Arts.
When lights are turned on at night inside the traditional homes, inspired by a mix of Indian, Persian and Islamic influences, a patchwork of orange, green, red and blue light is cast from the stained glass windows onto the streets below.
All the houses in the Old City, built by the commercial bourgeoisie and local aristocracy, were once adorned with shanasheel.
But with the fall of the kingdom, Saddam Hussein's rise to power and Iraq's multiple wars, the situation in Basra has slowly but surely deteriorated. The 2003 US-led invasion was the coup de grace.
"The original inhabitants have gone, others have arrived. I've seen some dismantle the pieces of wood from their houses to sell them," said Khalaf.
The newcomers have "changed the buildings, demolished them and rebuilt them with breeze blocks", said heritage specialist Hashem Al Azzam.

'Shanasheel has lost its grandeur'

> Iraqi city Basra once enjoyed a golden age.
> The hallmark of the city was shanasheel - finely crafted bay windows complete with intricate wooden latticework and ornate stained glass.
> The latticework windows - also known as mashrabiya - date back to the 16th and 17th centuries,
> City's wealthy old families once lived behind elaborate shanasheel in traditional homes.
> Now city's economy is in tatters so is the fine art of shanasheel.
 


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