Shanasheel, Iraqi Traditional Architecture - 09.02.2008

VIDEO - Iraq, Baghdad/Adhamiya
Iraqi society is quite proud of its different types of architecture and design. Their buildings have evolved and taken different shapes over Iraq’s history. In the time of the Babylonian civilization, the City of Babylon was famous for not just its decadence, but also the manner in which the houses and other buildings were constructed. During the era of the Abbasid Dynasty the Caliphs built many sites that are still standing until this moment. Buildings such as Al-Mustansariya university and several mosques like Al-Malwiyah in Samarra, were built by the Abbasids. Certainly some of Iraq’s most famous recent architectural marvels are the bizarre monuments built under Saddam Hussein’s regime, ending with the unfinished “Great Mosque” whose minarets are shaped like Iraqi Scud missiles.

The designs of houses vary widely across Iraq. You will find many different styles, likely there are more architectural styles than ethnic groups! A simple survey will uncover everything from houses made of mud and scrap metal to the most modern home designs. Most houses now share a similar design that is close to common Western designs. There are of course some differences in the way the houses look, and they have a certain Middle-Eastern flair of course. One of the rare architectural designs is called Shanasheel, “the hanging silk.” This style of house was first found in the 1800s and early twentieth century. People first popularized this style in the city of Basra. This design depends greatly on wood and colored glass. After it became popular in Basra the design began to be used first in Baghdad and then in most Arabic countries. The Shanasheel design has been especially popular because it helps the house to stay cool in the Summer, while keeping warm in the Winter.

Many Iraqi artists began including the Shanasheel design in their artwork, creating a specifically Iraqi traditional style. They included it in paintings or graffiti on the walls around Baghdad. Through this practice the art traveled to Europe and to other places far from Iraq. Due to the age of most of the houses, they are particularly susceptible to damage from bombings and mortar attacks. Because of this, many of the homes are particularly dangerous to live in today, due to a high risk of collapse.

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