The Al-Shaheed monument, also known as the Martyr monument, is one of Iraq’s premier attractions in Baghdad. Unsurprisingly the unique design, vibrant colour, and sheer size stand out amongst the backdrop of traditional architecture in the city.
The Al-Shaheed Monuments Purpose
The Al-Shaheed monuments story began in 1978, the height of Saddam Hussein’s extravagate commissioning of artworks in his goal to “beautify” Baghdad (and himself). Amongst his grand plans was a memorial for the fallen Iraqi war martyrs. To do so, he launched a design competition with a simple brief – memorial and cemetery. Finally, Iraqi sculptor Ismail Fatah Al Turk was appointed, and in 1983 after 27 months of construction, the Al-Shaheed monument would open to commemorate the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war. However, in an odd twist, it would be erected before and during the war. Remember, the war ran between September 22, 1980, and August 20, 1988, and historically memorials emerge after conflicts.
Amongst many reasons, the dome-shaped design was selected as it represented the vault of heaven, a sacred form in Islam. In addition, the original concept would be altered from gold-plated to turquoise ceramic tiles due to the region’s extreme heat and desire for longevity. Further, the cemetery would become a museum and place of learning.
Visiting the Al-Shaheed Monument in Baghdad
The Al-Shaheed monument is, without a doubt, one of the main sights in Bagdad. The turquoise 190-meter dome split on a circular platform next to the east side of the Tigris River is mind-blowing opulence. However, to fully understand the magnitude and magnificence of the Al-Shaheed monument, you must witness its glory in person. In one of the few missions Saddam succeeded, Art in America magazine rated al-Shaheed as the most beautiful design in the Middle East.
While the original concept was designed exclusively to honour the Iran-Iraq war, the monument is no longer of a singular context. Today when you visit, you have the opportunity to pay your respects to all those Iraqis who have lost their lives in violence. A haunting experience when you consider ISIS fell only in 2017 and thus was recently updated.
Another polarising experience when visiting the monument is the stark contrast between the magnificent architecture of the Al-Shaheed Monument and the museum below. Walking through the museum, you will witness the torture techniques and devices used by Saddam, the clothing of those murdered, names etched on walls and many of their faces. But even more astonishing is the opportunity to meet and speak with Iraqis who have lived through inconceivable brutalities and listen to their firsthand experiences.
The Future of the Al-Shaheed Monument in Baghdad
What lies ahead of Iraq is unclear as it continues towards its new identity. The Al-Shaheed monument, for many, may stand as a potent reminder of a regime or a cue to seek a brighter future and transcend its origins. While Iraq struggles in tourism, it is also an ideal time in history to visit before this country turns a new leaf and welcomes in abundance visitors.
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(And on another note, you can use the same toilet as Saddam Hussein beneath the monument)