Mesopotamian Marshes, The rebirth of Iraqi Venice

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Updated May 6, 2017 / Joรฃo Leitรฃo / 20 Comments / Filed in: / Reading time 3 minutes
Mesopotamian Marshes, The rebirth of Iraqi Venice

Mesopotamian Marshes, The rebirth of Iraqi Venice

Mesopotamian Marshes

The Mesopotamian Marshes are a wetland region located in southern Iraq, a natural monument that also includes part of Southwest Iran.

Mesopotamian Marshes

Mesopotamian Marshes

These are considered to be Western Eurasia’s largest wetlands ecosystems. This unusual place in the desert had plenty of water, so it used to be very productive and prosperous.

Birds in the marshes of Mesopotamia

Birds in the marshes of Mesopotamia

Throughout history, it has always been well respected, because, among the arid climate of southern Iraq, the Mesopotamian Marshes allowed human beings and livestock to have a high quality of life.

Father and son from the Marsh Arab tribes of Iraq

Father and son from the Marsh Arab tribes of Iraq

In 1950 during a massive oil exploration project, the drainage of the wetlands started. This process was taken to an extreme during the mandate of Saddam Hussein. This lead to the expulsion of local tribes, creating political and social tension in the southern parts of the country.

Islet in the marshes of Mesopotamia

Islet in the marshes of Mesopotamia

Currently, the Mesopotamian Marshes slightly recovered. Unfortunately, the last decade severe drought and the previously built infrastructure have left irreversible results in this territory.

Boats of Iraqs marshes

Boats of Iraq’s marshes

The people who live in Iraq’s southern marshes are known as Ma’dฤn – or simple as – Arabs of the Marshlands. These people build incredible floating houses made of reeds harvested in their own marshes, transported in canoes and small boats.

Traditional house of Iraqs Mesopotamian Marshes

Traditional house of Iraq’s Mesopotamian Marshes

The reed houses are called “mudhif” and are built without any type of nails or wood. These rustic looking huts have the same style of construction of those in Lake Titicaca in Peru.

Inside a reed house in southern Iraq

Inside a reed house in southern Iraq

The wetlands harvested reeds

The wetlands harvested reeds

Due to political problems of these tribes with Saddam Hussein and consequently almost complete draining of the marshes, this architectural style almost disappeared. There are some poor looking houses while other larger ones are more ornamented. Usually, each family has a main house and a separate lounge for receiving guests.

Reed made house of the Mesopotamian Marshes

Reed made house of the Mesopotamian Marshes

Saddam Hussein ordered to drain the marshes in 1991 as a punishment for those tribes who had supported the US incursion of Iraq. Consequently, there was a mass exodus of these people to other regions of the country.

Mesopotamian Arabe

Mesopotamian Arabe

Despite all these problems, about 2000 inhabitants of the marshes still live in traditional houses. The number of residents was approximately a million and a half back in the 1950’s.

Iraqi boy with a shotgun

Iraqi boy with a shotgun

After the overthrown of Saddam, local tribesmen recovery efforts finally began to show results, and the marshes water levels went up considerably. It was the rebirth of the great Mesopotamian Marshes.

Iraqi Marshes area

Iraqi Marshes area

The wildlife and the natural ecosystem of the marshes will take some more decades to recover, while its people still didn’t give up their territory and their old way of life.

Man serving coffee inside his home

Man serving coffee inside his home

I had the unique opportunity of traveling to this part of Iraq. I was invited to visit several houses in the middle of the swamps. I was given food, tea, and coffee by friendly marsh Arabs who felt honored to receive me.

Iraqi tea

Iraqi tea

NOTE: I’ve been to Iraq twice. The first time back in 2010 and the second time just recently in the beginning of 2016. I know I’m writing about a country where its Northern regions are currently fighting against terrorists, but southern Iraq does seem a bit safer. If you think you’d like to make such a trip, contact Mr. Adam Jebrin and he will give you some details about how you can travel to Iraq.



Visual artist shares inspiring photos and exotic travel destinations. Adventure travel blogger with ideas and narratives to motivate independent travelers and audacious backpackers. Intense journeys into more than 126 countries around Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Oceania since 1999. Expat in Morocco - North Africa since 2007, polyglot and proud Lonely Planet Pathfinders blogger.

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20 Comments. Leave new

Joao,

What a great post. I normally wouldn’t think ‘wetlands’ if someone mentioned Iraq to me. It’s such a unique pocket of humanity that you’ve captured here in your blog, and I really enjoyed reading about it. I love the reed homes-amazing craftsmanship! Thanks for sharing.

-Carrick

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A wonderfully enlightening read and some fantastic photos. Great to see a different side of Iraq presented. Thanks!

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Thank you for a really interesting post, it must have been a quite interesting place to visit as well I assume. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Abd Alhussain Mur
June 28, 2016 1:47 pm

The Iraqi Marshes and its natural wild life needs the world support for it to revive.
Thank you Joรฃo Leitรฃo for this article.

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This was a very educational post, I really enjoyed it. I had no idea that Iraq had wetlands. Hopefully they will continue to recover what was lost. Their culture and homes are beautiful, so it would be a shame for it to be lost due to corruption and greed.

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Wow I didn’t know this. This is very interesting and the reed house interior is really nice. I think I would stay in there for a night or two if i could.

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What an amazing place. The reed houses are so intricate and beautiful. They remind me of the houses in South America, I believe? I am glad to read that the conservation initiative is working and the water levels are rising. It must be hard to keep an initiative like this going, when a country has been through war, invasion, civil unrest and decades of instability like Iraq. I may be very wrong, because I don’t know enough about the situation in Mesopotamia, but your pictures make it look like this place is an oasis of peace and tranquility. Thank you for sharing this incredible place with us.

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Your photos are beautiful. Thank you for documenting a place that few of us are willing to travel too. It’s not all wars, famine, and struggle, and it would be fabulous to visit a place so rich in culture and history.

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Thank you for this post – Things like this are the reason why I love travel. There will always be fighting in the world, but that shouldn’t deter us from experiencing a place. Kudos for showing us a different side of Iraq! The reed building is a stunning bit of architecture.

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Thank you for sharing your experience traveling to a place few people ever go to. This was such an interesting read, and your photos are stunning. The reed houses are incredible! Hopefully over time the wetlands will be restored and people and wildlife can continue their way of life in peace.

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I love that large reed building. What a cool experience you had. I hope that these people can continue their way of life and that more of the wetlands can be restored.

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Me too I do hope the whole region can be restored to its previous times, at least when peace prevailed. Thanks

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A great aa interesting and deep experience!
I didn’t know the reason of the Mesopotamian marshes drought, and after reading your post I’m not surprised. As always, political interest end up hurting people’s life. Thanks for sharing this, to bring a new, positive and fresh view from Iraq.
Cheers,

Nat

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I loved my trip in Iraq. I visited places such as Baghdad, Ur and famous Babylon. Amazing historical places. Let’s give the best of hopes for its people. News say Iraqi troops conquered another town from ISIS in the north.

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The photos in this story are beautiful, the big reed house is simple but elegant. I can’t believe that there were almost a million and a half people living in these marshes in the 1950’s and now only 2000! I’m glad they haven’t given up their traditional lifestyle, so important to keep these traditions alive.

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It’s amazing how people pursuit their goals and in the end, strong cultural aspects such these ones still prevail. Thank you for your comment.

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This is fascinating. I must admit that I don’t know much about Iraq, but this is a really interesting post as it shows another side of a country that is or was in turmoil. I am amazed by the inside of one of the reed houses. Just imagine the skills necessary to build this mudhif without using nails or wood.

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Thank you for your comment. It’s also very interesting that these type of houses are also being made in Titicaca lake near Puno!

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Great post Joรฃo! Thank’s for sharing!

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thank you for your feedback Pedro. I appreciate your comment. Happy travels man!

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