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Wednesday, December 17, 2003


We used to believeCtesiphon was something to do with Nebuchadnezzar.

Standing under that arch the first thing you'd ask would be, How does it stay up? I did, as a young boy, when I stood right in the middle, straining my neck back, awestruck. A family day out involved a visit to the ruins and, later, to a nearby shrine, which we went inside, though we weren't Muslim: in the centre was a large grilled, ornate cage containing something or someone revered, the details of which I retain no memory of, which could be walked right round.

The ruins themselves, the famous arch remnant of the Great Hall, and an ajoining structure, are depicted in a black and white lino-cut picture my mother still has. Its image is engraved on my mind, forever.

Nobody quite knows how they managed to construct the roof of the Great Hall. It remains, to this day, unsupported by pillars, in the shape of the curve of the pointed end of an egg. It is so high at the centre, at least 70-100 feet, that is impossible to imagine scaffolding being used in its construction. Maybe earth was piled underneath, so that the bricks could be placed in the tight weave that has held to this day.

If ever there was a symbol of - or for - Iraq today, this is it. Somehow not disintegrating, despite the depradations, physical and mental, that Iraq and Iraqis have endured over the last 100 years. Not true of Babylon, my next memory, since it was, until the excavations of over a 100 years ago, completely covered by the sands of time. And more pointedly, in terms of recent events, was quite recently ruined by massive reconstruction with new bricks stamped with the name and praises of The Unmentionable Name, in the style of Nebuchadnezzar. Will they knock these modern abominations down now?


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