Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – The ancient city of Babylon, first referenced in a clay tablet from the 23rd century B.C., was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Friday, after a vote that followed decades of lobbying by Iraq.
It was a metropolis in ancient Mesopotamia that became one of the most important sited in the ancient world. Now Babylon, in Iraq, is officially a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The news comes as deliberations continue in Baku, Azerbaijan, to decide which destination should be added to a portfolio that already names 1.092 sites in 167 countries.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said the city, now an archeological ruin, was returned to its “rightful place” in history after years of neglect by previous leaders.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also welcomed the news.
“Mesopotamia is truly the pillar of humanity’s memory and the cradle of civilization in recorded history”, he said.
The government said it would allocate funds to maintain and boost conservation efforts.
Babylon, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad, was one the center of a sprawling empire, renowned for its towers and mudbrick temples. Its hanging gardens were one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzer II.
Visitors can stroll through the remnants of the brick and clay structures which stretch across 10 square kilometers, and see the famed Lion of Babylon statue, as well as large portion of the original Ishtar Gate.
As the sun began to set on the crumbling ruins, activists and residents flocked to the replica Ishtar gate at the site’s entrance to celebrate what they called a historic moment.
“This is very important, because Babylon will now be a protected site”, said Marina al-Khafaji, a local who was hopeful the designation would boost tourism and the local economy.