Rarely do you hear good news coming from Iraq. But now and then, even in the fires and the depths of war, art triumphs – as it has more than once in recent months. In September, for instance, a new museum opened in Basra, housed in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces .Eight years in the making, the Basra Museum will ultimately house archeological treasures dating back to several centuries BC, and stretching until the early 20th century. As the Financial Times noted at its opening, its inauguration marks “the first time a in a generation the people of Southern Iraq will have their own museum.”
Now, a grant from the British Council will ensure that the museum can continue, and that more galleries can be restored to house the treasures of its original collection.
After Basra’s original museum was looted in the 1991 Gulf War, most of what remained was transported to the National Museum in Baghdad for safekeeping. The building itself was further damaged following the US-UK invasion of 2003.
In 2008, under the auspices of the UK-based Friends of the Basrah Museum, a private non-profit, and the British Armed Services (Basra was under British control from 2003 until early 2008), the former palace was officially made the site of the new, revived museum. With support from the Iraq Ministry of Culture, the State Board of Antiquities, and others, the palace has been renovated, its original Moroccan decor restored, and the building updated to provide for security against ongoing violence, as well as for proper climate control and professional displays.
In addition, the FT reports, several nearby buildings are also to be converted into museums, and a parkland built to provide space for cultural activities in a plan reminiscent of the many museums and cultural centers in Doha, all part of the Qatar Museums Authority.
The new, £460,000 grant from the British Council, administered through the Cultural Protection Fund, will now allow for the completion three additional galleries, crucial to the museum’s mission.
According to a British Council press release, “The new museum will showcase the rich cultural heritage of Iraq, from 3000 BC to the early 20th century. The three remaining galleries will display important cultural heritage that have been in store in Baghdad since 2003, and tell the story of the most important eras in Iraq’s history: Sumer (Southern Iraq in the period 3300 BC-1792 BC); Babylon (the great period of Mesopotamian civilization from 1792 BC-330 BC), and Assyria (Northern Iraq between 883 BC and 612 BC).”
But it is not just a matter of building additional exhibition space. Significantly, the grant also provides funds for needed conservation, scientific analysis, and the training of museum staff – all critical to maintaining the history of Southern Iraq and, even more, ensuring the strength of its civilization into the future.
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