The Baghdadi Cultural Centre in al Mutanabi Street
By Mehiyar Kathem, on 7 July 2022
In May 2022, the Nahrein Network organised a one-day event titled Cultural Heritage: Projects and Partnerships in Iraq. The event was held at the Baghdadi Cultural Centre, in al Mutanabi Street, central Baghdad. The Baghdadi Cultural Centre overlooks the River Tigris and is located in a historic site built during the Ottoman Empire and which was previously an Abbasid-era building. It lies directly opposite al Qushla, the famous Ottoman barracks and administrative building.
The event was attended by Professor Eleanor Robson and Dr Mehiyar Kathem. It was chaired by Dr Ali Naji Attiyah, of Kufa University. Presentations from ten different funded projects in the country covered several of Iraq’s provinces. The public event focused on work supported by the Nahrein Network’s funded activities in the country, including on such things as post conflict digital documentation, intangible cultural heritage, Christian heritage, cultural groups and Babylon.
Speakers, representatives and attendees hailed from Iraq’s universities, media, the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), the Iraq Museum, as well as members of the public.
Ali Naji Attiyah’s brillant chairing of the event made it a huge success. Eleanor Robson spoke about the Nahrein Network’s past work and its future plans in the country.
Since the recent rehabilitation of al Mutanabi street the area has become a major cultural and tourist hub in Baghdad, attracting thousands of people to its cafes, bookshops and cultural sites.
The Baghdadi Cultural Centre is one of Iraq’s most active institutions, working to promote Iraq’s diverse and pluralistic cultures. It houses private museums and libraries, including important collections of books, and offers its space for free to the public and cultural organisers– particularly on busy Fridays, a weekend day in Iraq, to promote handicrafts, theatre and more generally cultural activities.
— مهيار (@Mehiyar) May 22, 2022
The Baghdad Cultural Centre houses a growing number of private libraries, donated to it for safekeeping and management. Its director, Mr Talib al Issa, manages the building and organises its weekly events. The private libraries belong to some of Iraq’s intellectuals, including Jews, Kurds, Christians, Assyrians and Arabs, constituting a diverse and visual record of Iraq’s history, all made available for the public to visit.
Not only are private collections donated, but also the personal possessions and such things as furniture, are often transferred to the Baghdadi Cultural Centre, a tradition found across Iraq that preserves a living memory of Iraq’s intellectuals and their lives.
Eleanor Robson and Mehiyar Kathem also visited the heritage museum collections located on site, an initiative of Mr Sabah al Saady, a well known advocate for safeguarding the country’s cultural heritage. Through his personal efforts, Mr Sabah al Asady established the Land of Rafidain (or two rivers) Museum, which displays historical artefacts and heritage pieces that celebrate Iraq’s history.
On site was also Saad Al Adhami, an Assyriology-loving potter, who makes some of these beautiful bowls and other cultural objects.
Saad Al Adhami and Eleanor Robson spoke about Cuneiform writing, and its beauty.
Saad Al Adhami – maker of these beautiful small pots and also prepares the cuneiform writing. So much potential for culturally inspired and educational handicrafts in #Iraq @Eleanor_Robson pic.twitter.com/KeN0lEBsQ8
— مهيار (@Mehiyar) May 20, 2022