Nothing quite shows the opulence and indeed contrasts of the Baathist era than Saddam Hussein’s Palaces. While nominally socialist Saddam’s palaces were an essential part of the cult of personality of not only him, but also his family.
To read about Baathism click here.
What happened to the Palaces of Saddam Hussein?
During his nearly 24 years in power, the Saddam Hussein regime built nearly 100 palaces/residences across the country as an expression of his and his families authority. These provided housing for not only the Field Marshal himself but for Ba’ath party officials, their family, as well as numerous mistresses. Some $2 billion USD is estimated to have been spent on these in the post Gulf War One period alone. Quite the sum when you factor in that Iraq was under sanctions at the time.
After Baghdad fell to the Americans in 2003, many of these palaces were looted and demolished by Iraqi citizens. Many more were occupied by US Marines who used them for anything from command centres to R&R internet cafes and even Starbucks outlets. With US troops now long gone, many are back to being decaying reminders of a totalitarian regime that once was, while others offer a glimpse into what it was like inside one of Saddam Hussein’s Palaces.
Can you visit the Palaces of Saddam Hussein?
As a fallen dictator and one who it was considered had plundered the country all former palaces of Saddam Hussein were taken into state ownership. Some as previously mentioned were put into government use, others allowed to decay, with at least two being somewhat available to tourists.
The Saddam Hussein palaces that can be visited as a tourist are the Saddam Palace of Babylon and the so called Birds Nest Palace at the top of the Garra Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan – both of which can be visited on one of our Iraq Tours.
So, what is it like inside a palace of Saddam Hussein?
The Saddam Hussein Palace of Babylon
One of the most important recent, controversial and indeed opulent of his palaces the Saddam Hussein palace at Babylon was created in 1986 and was just steps from the historic Babel. Iraq despite being at the centre of the Iran – Iraq War,(back when were were allies) had embarked on a massive refurb of this cradle of civilisation. Not only were the walls here fitted with his initials, but also his likeness.
He even had the following added as a quote on some blocks
“In the reign of the victorious Saddam Hussein, the president of the Republic, may God keep him the guardian of the great Iraq and renovator of its renaissance and the builder of its great civilization”
The palace itself is as you would expect, quite large, although the years have certainly taken their toll (next year marking 20 years since his overthrow). Situated on three floors, visitors can enjoy its rooftop, as well as of course getting a chance to see Saddam Hussein’s bed. Alas you can’t sleep in it.
All of our tours to mainland Iraq include a visit to the Palace of Saddam Hussein in Babylon.
To check out our next Iraq Tour click here.
Saddam’s Summer Palace in Kurdistan AKA The Birds Nest
Located at the top of Garra Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan and although still surrounded by hundreds of land-mines, remains open to anyone who knows how to get there (us).
The area was liberated by the Kurds in 1991 and as such gave western viewers a first glance at the opulence enjoyed at the palaces of Saddam Hussein. Long favourite for tourists of Kurdistan, both local and foreign alike it offers spectacular views of the Amedi Valley; so much so that it’s been nicknamed the “Kurdish bird’s nest”.
All of our trips to Iraqi Kurdistan take in the Summer Palace of Saddam Hussein.
You can check out our next Iraqi Kurdistan tour here.
The Basra Palace of Saddam Hussein
While there has been lots of talk of turning this into a museum and it forming the center piece of tourism in Basra the reality is somewhat different. You cannot actually visit this palace, but you can take a boat ride past it, as well as one of the many former yachts pf Saddam Hussein.
The reason you cannot visit here is that it currently houses a local militia, we know this as the gun-totting fellas have given us a wave as our boat has sauntered past.
Republican Palace Baghdad
Two of Saddam Hussein’s palaces that were spared destruction and looting were the enormous Republican Palace and Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad. Both of these were initially taken over by US forces, before now being in government hands.
Originally built when Iraq was monarchy on the orders of King Faisal II in the 1950’s, alas he was never to live there as he was assassinated in 1958. After this is was renamed the Republican Palace and was to be used by the various presidents of Iraq, before coming into particular prominence under the Baathist regime.
Of the palaces of Saddam Hussein the Republican Palace of Baghdad was his favourite place to meet dignitaries and the like. After the fall of the regime it was very much part of the Green Zone of Iraq and as well as looting suffered from overuse.
Nowadays it is still part of the highly controlled area of Baghdad and while not currently in use has been slated for some kind of renovation. Can tourists visit the Republican Palace in Baghdad? No they cannot, yet….
Al-Faw Palace AKA The Baghdad Water Palace
The Al Faw Palace or water palace is located in Baghdad around 5 km from Baghdad International Airport. One of the later palaces to be built it was constructed in the early 90’s to commemorate the retaking of Al-Faw by Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War.
Located around 5km from the Green Zone/International Zone it is located in a former resort complex and was pared damage during the invasion of Iraq in order to serve as a base.
The palace contains over 62 rooms and 29 bathrooms many which were converted to offices for the Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I). Nowadays it is surrounded by high walls and while not able to visit, is at least visible from a distance when taking a tour to Iraq.
Will I see other palaces in Iraq?
So these are but 5 of the palaces that still retain importance of can be visited in Iraq, but in case you forgot we told you there are over 100 palaces related to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Therefore when you do travel to Iraq on tour many former residences, or places that were former residences will be pointed out to you by our expert local Iraqi guides.
Saddam might have been gone almost 20 years, but his legacy very much looms on Iraq.
You can visit many of these palaces on one of our Iraqi Tours, both group and independent which you can read about here.