Al-Mutanabbi Street – the small island of culture in the sea of postwar gloom

Al-Mutanabbi street is the only place in Baghdad that I know about where you can buy books, watch painters, view performers, listen to musicians, participate in discussions, conferences, lectures, and just meet new creative people. There is also an opportunity to drink fresh juice and go boating. The street currently bears the name of the Iraqi Arabic poet Ahmad al-Mutanabbi and is also the same name of a weekly cultural  fair (festival) at this location situated behind the Old City.      

Al-Mutanabbi Street. The beginning

Al-Mutanabbi Street. The beginning


Old City with its buildings (and with famous Iraqi balconies shanashil) around age of 200 years  and which lived through few wars, but judging from one’s appearance wasn’t repaired even once. It enraptures and dispirit by its neglect at the same time. Al-Mutanabbi street is right behind Old City, and every Friday it fills by people who came to see or take part in cultural fair. How it looks?

At the beginning of the street you see the rows of books, at both sides of street like a shores that restrain a river of people, who, with aim or without, are looking books counters with numerous of folios.

Street is full of books and behind this counters is shopes – with stationery, books, stuffs for office, dried fruits and also cafes. Also there is a tea-café where the serve lumi-basra tea. On the left you can see the archways that follow into courtyards, where is also the inhibitions, discussions obscure or just friends-intellectuals are smoking hookah talking about something. You can see not ordinary young people, Iraqi freaks (if we can call them like this), because may be only here is least gathering of them, you can see spokeswomen of Iraqi feminists, members of communist party and other minorities  who try to make Iraq to better by their projects, organizations. Here is also Bagdad cultural center.

               The note.  On the way from Old City, on the al-Rashid street, right opposite the huge mosque in reconstruction, you can look in one place – its age over 100 years. This is small café where they serve only the one drink – zabib juice, that made from black sweet raisin and it have a maroon-purple color. This café is a family business that became famous because of it. Inside you see the two walls full of photos from family archive. Its funny that surname of owners is «Zbale», that mean in Iraqi language «trash». So, this is amusing place zabib-café «Hadji Zbale»  on the Al-Rashid street.

Very soulful  place on this street is fragments of burnt building. This place became a creative platform in its depth is theater stage. So, this is a big open air stage that is perfect decoration for performances about war, destroying, witch such an actual in Baghdad.

The ruins of building which have become a decoration

The ruins of building which have become a decoration

At Al-Mutanabbi Street is also Hall of Martyrs. When you come in you see the stairs witch follow to second floor. The walls along the stairs are hanged by photos of outstanding cultural workers and significant events (concerts, performances). Climbing to second floor you ll see the zonated room – on the left is permanent exhibition of caricature of famous late artist Muayed Neama , after that – the open space with bookshells (for sale), also the models of national clothes, shoes, household items, dolls. Then is a little separated part for conferences with a small stage and around 20 chairs.

Almost in the end of street you find yourself in old university with his big  beautiful garden where is also  the stage exist. Inside it all rooms filled by inhibitions, conferences, small concerts and other actions. At garden stage musicians could play or some activists could tell their speeches. And it the end of al-mutanabbi street is park, meadow with arbours. This park is upon the shore of Tigris river.

In the very end, behind the university is a big park, how it was said, with old tower clock. This place named the Ottoman Kisle (the barracks of Ottoman). On this big meadow the artists inhabit their paintings, sometimes you can see the public drawing, in the arbours people discuss the books, reporters are crowed here, making interviews and stand-ups.  If you will look down you will see the statue of poet Al-Mutanabbi. For those who watched everything, drunk tea or juice and eat something is necessary to go boating on the Tiger river, for complete this spirit of freedom witch lives here one time at week on this small island of culture in the sea of postwar gloom that called Al-Mutanabbi street.

In Baghdad’s magazine «Gilgamesh» was published a part of article about this festival. Read this emotional story here.



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