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Basra – The Venice of the Middle East

For the last few decades, holidaying in Iraq has, sadly, been almost impossible. The country has been synonymous with war, violence and oppression for such a long time that the idea of visiting seems very fanciful for anyone born after the 1960s. 40 years ago, Iraq was in fact a popular destination for tourists. But for now, we can only travel there through the medium of film.

We posted an article, “Iraq Before Saddam“, a few days ago, featuring ten films from the history of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. But one of them deserves special attention.

The Pathé documentary unit shot a two reel documentary called Ageless Iraq back in the 1950s. If you disregard that the film was probably made for propaganda reasons (the notes say the film was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co.) and instead just view it as a travelogue, it paints a fascinating and extremely appealing picture of this ancient land.

Afternoon sailing trip

It is easy to forget that Iraq is in fact a country steeped in rich history and culture and as the first reel tells us, the very beginnings of civilisation started here. This is a country where writing was conceived and where man began cultivating the land. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq, fertilising the plains and during the 1950s agriculture production was thriving and self-sufficient. Iraq is also home to the ancient walls of Babylon and is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

Baghdad – this could be a resort in any other holiday hot spot

Both reels show images of a landscape, culture and society that we just don’t associate with Iraq anymore: art, horseracing, music, cuisine and boats leisurely sailing down a canal in Basra otherwise known as “The Venice of the Middle East”.

The narrator states at the end: “Ageless Iraq, a new country but one that hasn’t forgotten the glories of its history. A country that is now emerging from the shadows of it past to a future bright with promise.” Let’s hope that this will soon be true again and that perhaps, one day, we will be able to book a flight to explore this fascinating land.

View both reels of Ageless Iraq below:

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