Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Al Rasheed Street

Al Rasheed Street used and still one of the main centers in Baghdad, where retail storage spaces, cafés and restraunts, small and big shops, private and government services buildings, clinics, pharmacies, photography studios, laboratories, record shops, sawing factories, and many more of every profession one can imagine, all interlaced within each other. The same goes for the masses of people of different ages and gender walking on each side of the street, and the hundreds of cars drove by side by side dead slow - from ancient cars (like the Russian Volga) to the most luxurious Alpha Romeo. Any visitor can acknowledge that Al Rasheed Street is just one perfect example of random society classes in one place; where the extremely poor can be seen as well as the lavish rich. There was also time when movie theaters used to show the latest Arab and Western movies, where families became regular visitors to these theaters, but this has been gradually diminished over the years to the level of showing what it used to be called "film every 15 minutes" for teens from surrounding public areas and soldiers from military units located around the capital, who used to seek a cool place so they can have some sleep during the bloody hot summer days. Thus, no interest if the star in the film gets killed or he discovers that the old women found in the abandoned village is in fact his forgotten aunt from childhood!!

The origin of Al Rasheed Street goes back to the Ottoman era who ruled Iraq from 1534 to 1918. During that time, the only known public street in Baghdad was Al Naher Street (Shari al-Naher), which was constructed in 1910, during the rule of Nazim Pasha (1848 - 1912), who governed Baghdad twice: the first in 1908, and the second for 11 months between 1910 and 1911. Al Naher means River - the street is stretching few kilometers along the east banks of the river Tigris and this might be the reason behind its name. However, people used to call the narrow Shari al-Naher with other names, such as Gold Street, because of the countless number of goldsmith and jewelry shops spread on both sides, and Girls’ Street, because the majority of the street’s visitors were females from different ages.

After the defeat of the British by the Ottomans on the 29th of April 1916 in Kut (south of Baghdad), where tens of thousands of Anglo-Indian troops dead or wounded, and thousands more taken prisoners, including their commander, Sir Charles Townshend (It is regarded by many historians as the biggest humiliation in British military history), the military governor of Baghdad, Khalil Pasha (1864 – 1923), decided to honor this victory by giving orders to build the first ever "real" street in Baghdad. Work began in May 1916, after the head of Baghdad’s municipality, Ra’ouf Al Chadirchy met with owners of houses to pay them compensations for the demolition of their houses which will be demolished. The way that street was constructed in the planning phases was very primitive and strange: a long rope was put through on top of the houses from the beginning to the end. Some people sighted the laying robe over the roof of their house as a catastrophe; hence, the rope has been thrown many times from the roof of one house to the other. There were more problems, though: there was the burial place of a religious Imam Taha (where the statue of poet Ma'rouf Al Risafi now stands) and the wall of Haider Khana Mosques. Both were dealt with: The wall was demolished in the middle of the night, and the remains of the Imam Taha also has been extravagated and moved to Salman Pak (west of Baghdad) in the middle of the night.
The street was first opened for the public on July 23, 1916 (the anniversary of declaration of the country’s constitution). The first name given to the street was by Khalil Pasha who named the street “Jadde Si”. The name of the street was written then on a ceramic plate and put on the main wall of Sultan Ali Mosque till mid fifties of the last century. For almost a year, the street was badly maintained, filled with dust, mud, and holes untill the British seized Baghdad on 11 March 1917, when a decision was made to reconstruct the street. The British paved the street and gave it a new name: "New Street" (Al Sahri Al Jadeed). However, the Baghdadis preferred to call it "the Main Street" (Al Jadde Al Umomiyeh).

During the 1920s, people began to identify regular passers and visitors, such as cars where prostitutes sitting in the backseat their covered head - The government during that time made an order that every prostitute must cover their head and body with the common black robe (Abaya, in Arabic) and wear dark blue soaks to diffrintiate them from other women. In the 1930s Baghdadis got used to see every afternoon twice a day two big black Buick seven seats drive by: one of them belonged to the famous estates owner Bahiya Al Urbiya. She used to sit in the backseat and was known for her beautiful smile she greets the pedestrians with when she passes by. The other black Buick belongs to Regina Murad, also a well known estate owner and a woman of power due to her connections with officials such as ministers and political party members. From the 1930s onwards, other streets in the meantime were constructed and re-organization of the great city of Baghdad took place. In addition, many new faces of people from country side moved to the city during the forties and fifties where they brought their own cultures and traditions. All in all gave the street different and unique flavor! On this same street young men and woman from different political parties in the fifties came out carrying their slogans against what they believe wrong. The street also was the theater of political assassination attempts, such as that of the first president of Iraq, Qasim, and confrontation with the British occupation.
There are a lot to talk about Al Rasheed Street, which will remain an eternal spot in the history of Baghdad forever despite attempts to silence its unique music made by its inhabitants.


Gale said...

I love the photos and the writing Mix, I love the history, I love your passion for your home... keep the stories coming, i appreciate the brief glimpse into your world...:)

MixMax said...

Thanks Gale for your comments and big thanks for the lovely words. As I mentioned once, I will try to boost up this blog more than ever when I have the time.

It is an obligation that I share with the world what Iraq used to be, and I appreciate your part in sharing with me such experience :)

kyles said...

Hey Mix,

I followed Gale here :) What a great blog, I look forward to more updates when you have the time, and I have thoroughly enjoyed wandering round here this morning and have learnt so much!



MixMax said...

Hi Kyles, thank you very much for your words, much appreciate it :)

Anonymous said...

I have always wanted to visit Baghdad and to sit in a cafe in Rasheed Street, drink coffee, eat mazgoof and listen to Iraq's music.
Will I ever?

MixMax said...

Hi Anon, Maybe one day, no one knows, I might invite you there :)

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Mix Max for your love of the people oo Iraq and your love of Iraq. I am also from Iraq and I really hope that we will see peace and stabilty one day. For now, I thank you for your hard work and diligence in making the photos and information available for foreigners and Nostalgic Iraqis. God bless you and peace be upon you and All of Iraq and Iraqis who love Iraq and its people.