House of Wisdom in the City of Peace

Bagdad, Iraq

Destroyed 1870s

The Disappointed Tourist: House of Wisdom, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The House of Wisdom was a famous library located in the the Round City of Baghdad, the original core of Bagdad. The city was built by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur in 762–766 CE as the official residence of the Abbasid court. Its official name in Abbasid times was the City of Peace (Arabic: مدينة السلام ). The two designers of the city were Naubkht, a former Zoroastrian and Mashallah ibn Athari, a Persian Jewish astrologer/astronomer. After a civil war led to the destruction of much of the city between 836 and 892, the caliphs abandoned Baghdad for Samarra and the city was taken over by the Turks they had imported as bodyguards.The House of Wisdom was destroyed in the Mongol siege of Bagdad in 1258. Midhat Pasha demolished the remains of the Round City when he took control of Baghdad as its Ottoman governor in the early 1870s. None of the structures of the city has survived, and information is based on literary sources from the late 10th and 11th centuries, in particular “Description of Mesopotamia and Baghdad,” written by Ibn Serapion; “Tarikh Baghdad (A History of Baghdad)”, by the scholar and historian Al-Khatib al-Bagdadi and the “Geographical Dictionary” by the geographer and historian Ya-qubi.

This painting is based on a creative visualization by Jean Soutif from the Science Photo Library. I had originally found this image credited as the Great Walls of Benin and used it for that until someone contacted me on Instagram to point out that I had got it wrong and that the Round City deserved be included as itself. So I fixed the title on this painting and did a new painting for the Great Walls of Benin.

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