Basra, Iraq – Venice Of The East

May 29, 2016

So, you want some *real* adventure travel these days?  How about a nice little vacation in…Iraq, of all places?  If you are from the west, your initial reaction may be “no thanks” due to, well, thousands of hours of CNN coverage, that may spring to mind from recent years.  <sigh> Fair enough.

…Or is it really fair enough?  Certain parts of the world can easily be argued to be more dangerous than others, with Iraq being a prime candidate for most westerners’ “places to avoid” top ten list, especially with bombs going off, hostage situations, and political turmoil constantly taking place there.  Yes, there’s no denying that Iraq has seen its share of conflict.  At the same time, can we deny its beauty?  Case in point – Basra, Iraq – shown below.

basra iraq tourism

Basra, Iraq – sometimes called the ‘Venice of the East’

As with almost anything in life that has endured its share of hard times, if you “give peace a chance” (as that moody Beatle John Lennon once repeatedly chanted) well… it may actually happen.  Sometimes it seems impossible, when we’re talking about a country that seems to constantly be in the center of one battle or another, but it has been known to happen.  

as mansur, saddam husseins damaged private yacht

Saddam’s old yacht, post-war and abandoned…

Tourism in Iraq?

In fact, it wasn’t long ago (10 years or so) that the U.K. government had the crazy idea to assist with tourism in war-torn Iraq. 

The idea, at the time, was to plan tours to see some of the great landmarks in this ancient country, such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which are over 5000 years old, as well as the location of the original Garden of Eden – known as the marshes of Uruk.  

Speaking of landmarks, we think that a city like Basra would make a perfect candidate for any sort of tourism effort focusing on Iraq…

basrah city, iraq canals

But, we know, of course, there are many people who, considering the state of affairs in Iraq in recent years, would simply never consider going anywhere near Iraq, under any circumstances.

While is is perfectly understandable, however, this is, of course, the type of mindset that leads to people simply closing their minds to the possibility of beauty in such a place.  Not everyone wants to ignore the fact that Iraq is replete with museums, ancient mosques, shrines, bazaars, restaurants, and palaces.  People still live there, and enjoy all of these things right now.  You only live once – why miss out?

basra iraq statue

A statue in Basra, Iraq

We here in the West, need to remember always, that people live in Iraq, and have lived there for thousands of years, and regardless of our opinions of whether we would like to visit there, those who live there will continue to call Iraq home, and have no intention of leaving.  As tourists, we do need to be aware of certain customs wherever we go, and if we are respectful (as we all should be), all should be well.  

iraqi boatman

Basra, Iraq – The Venice Of The East

We’ve been alluding to this place for a while now, but now we want to say that we are here to highlight one city in Iraq in particular – Basra – a port city, and one of the most beautiful locations we’ve seen anywhere in the world.  It was once known as the “Venice Of The East”, for reasons that will become apparent to you shortly, if you haven’t gathered why already. 

Quick Facts About Basra, Iraq

  • Also known as al-Baṣrah (Arabic: البصرة)
  • Iraq’s main port
  • Population of around 1.5 million
  • Once visited by Sinbad the Sailor
  • Said to be actual location of the Garden of Eden
  • Built in 636 (14 AH)
  • Second largest city after Baghdad
  • One of Iraq’s hottest cities
  • Temperatures regularly over 50 °C (122 °F)

To begin with, have a look at this video which shows you a small preview of some of the beautiful things you can see in Basra.

From the above video, you don’t get a sense of the violence that this city has seen over the years.  Before you get the impression that you should jump on a plane and experience this great city, please take note: it is well known that Basra has been the location of many battles over a thirty year period, since the 1914 Battle of Basra, to the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s and beyond, all the way up to 2008’s recent war. 

war in basra iraq

It would be ridiculous to suggest that Basra is simply immune to the fighting that has taken place in Iraq over the years.  War is an awful thing, and it has, in recent years, found its way to Basra.  Here is a video showing the British military presence that was there to protect Basra in 2003.

We are not here to comment on the nature of the conflicts in and around Basra, or in Iraq in general.  But, as you can see in this video, these images of war don’t flatter Basra at all, in terms of showing how attractive and enchanting the city can be. 

basra university

near Basra University

Violence and strife aside (if you can put such things aside), we must admit, the reason, we here at Beach Baby, are drawn to a place like Basra, is because of the fantastic water.  We love water, and we love water activities, and Basra, being akin to Venice, has plenty of that. 

Basra-Shatt-Al-Arab

If you are a lover of beautiful scenery, and boats, for instance, you will definitely be drawn to Basra, since it does bring to mind something similar to Venice, when you see the waterways and the enchanted vessels that go about their business there. 

Here is another video showing the more serene side of Basra, Iraq.

We must say, at this point, that we do not know of any beaches in Basra, Iraq.  There is a whole lot of water there, as this is a port city, and there are a whole lot of boats, but we can’t say this has yet become any sort of beach city.  Ah well, we can find our beaches elsewhere.  This does not in any way detract from the beautiful waters that flow through Basra.

basra iraq tour

 Let’s change our focus from water to food for a few moments. Basra’s markets are so intriguing.  If you are a fan of food (who isn’t?), and particularly, sea food, you will once again take notice that Basra has not only beautiful looking markets, but plentiful goods  sold there.

Westerners will notice the many different fruits and vegetables, and might wonder where they grew in such a desert environment. 

Take a look at this video which features some of the sights and sounds of the Basra markets!

Overall, Basra is a lovely city, replete with history that dates back a long way, but the more you learn about it, the more you learn that it has not always been a “safe zone”.  It has been caught up in the wars of recent times, just as much as any other middle eastern city, and in fact, has been the location of several epic and awful altercations between various countries.  

But you can also see its beauty.  If you go back to the 60’s, Basra was a different place!  You can see a more carefree, idyllic place if you watch the video below.

Now, things have changed!  This next video, even with poor audio, should give you a more contemporary picture of the water ways in Basra today.  Because of the extent of the military’s presence in Bazra, videos like this one are very common online. 

Today’s Basra seems to be aimed at returning to its previous days of beauty and tranquility, or at least it strives for that.  Recent videos like the two we will show below, shows Basra on a regular day or night. 

First a look at Basra at night…

And now, the daytime…

We hope that now, after having been given a very small taste of what a city like Basra, Iraq, has to offer, you may consider it as a place to visit someday. 

basra amusement park

These pictures and videos can only show you so much.  You really must experience it for yourself, and luckily, many world travellers know that there is really no substitute for taking the time to go somewhere you’ve never been before, and learning all about the soul of a place and its people. 

This is truly at the heart of a real adventure, and you can certainly begin see that Basra has a rich history that goes back well beyond the fighting that has gone on there in recent history.

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