Entry fee: 25 000 IQD
Located a few kilometres from the town of Hillah, the historic site of Babylon is one of the most important in the world in terms of the history of Mesopotamia and civilisations. It is still one of Iraq’s most coveted tourist attractions, and in fact it’s unusual for a traveller to visit the country without arranging a visit to these epic remains of the past.
In this guide you’ll find basic information about Babylon’s most important monuments, how much it costs to visit, how to get there and where to stay.
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Why visit Babylon
Ancient Babylon is a historic site over 4 millennia old and the seat of many successive Mesopotamian empires. Home to the supposedly enigmatic Tower of Babel, the Hanging Gardens, the Lion of Babel, the famous Ishtar Gate and many others, Babylon is a highlight of any trip to Iraq.
Babylon is the first known “megalopolis” in history. At its height, around 6 centuries BC, the city itself was estimated to have had at least 100,000 inhabitants. This ancient site, which has unfortunately suffered from excessive looting and heavy damage in recent times, particularly under the American invasion when the army used it as a base, remains today a treasure trove of humanity’s heritage. And speaking of heritage, it’s no surprise that Babylon is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Places to see in Babylon
Don’t forget to bring your passport to the site. I forgot mine when I visited but luckily I had a copy on my phone. They also need to check your visa.
1. Ishtar Gate
The blue Gate of Ishtar (goddess of love and fertility), featuring the dragon Marduk and the bull deity Adad, is an emblematic monument in Iraq that every traveller dreams of seeing for themselves. The gate is not whole, but only the front part [see a picture of the whole gate]. Unfortunately, it is a replica, as the original was sent to the Pergamon Museum in Germany at the end of the First World War for preservation. Many sources agree that it was stolen instead. Despite several requests from Iraq for the door to be repatriated, Germany never returned it.
2. Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II (king of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that brought the Babylonian Empire to its apogee) has been extensively modified. In fact, this is the area you visit directly after passing through the Ishtar Gate. The ruins of the palace have been completely restored, a process that has been highly controversial among historians and archaeologists, since the original structures have been covered by modern ones that do not at all respect the construction methods and materials of the time. These large-scale works undertaken by Saddam Hussein were a heavy penalty for the ancient city, as it was unable to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason, until it finally was in 2019.
4. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The supposed site of the mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon lies to the east of the Royal Palace. The archaeological site has not been restored, but is still very fragile. Take a look at what the stories say the Hanging Gardens might have looked like [see image].
4. Babel Tower and Marduk Ziggurat
Etemenanki, the ziggurat of Marduk (god of the city of Babylon) is set back from the hanging gardens and the palace. To this day, all that remains is a mound of earth, to say the least. The site is surrounded by a marshy moat, making access difficult but possible. Your feet are likely to sink into the mud, so be warned. The mound is also sinking into the ground over the years.
This is also thought to be the ancient site of the Tower of Babel. Let me briefly explain its myth:
More than 4,000 years ago, people all spoke the same language. After the flood, they settled here and built a gigantic tower so that they could touch the sky and reach God, which they did [see image]. God then divided the people, changing their languages and scattering them to the 4 corners of the earth. This is how Babylon came into being. Its name in Sumerian means “the gate of the God(s)” and its meaning on the Assyrian tablets translates as something like “the place where the tribes were dispersed”.
5. Babel Lion
The Lion of Babel is a Mesopotamian statue believed to have existed since the heyday of Babylon, more than 2,600 years ago, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. Excavations suggest that this black basalt sculpture may have been stolen from what is now northern Syria. Today, it is one of the most important emblems of Iraq and is located on the site of Babylon.
6. Babylone Palace
Entry fee: 1 000 IQD
Saddam Hussein worked hard to restore the site of Babylon and wanted to leave his mark on it in various ways. For example, many of the bricks on the site are inscribed with his signature. A portrait of him has been carved out of the rock and erected at the entrance to Babylon, which has been riddled with bullets. But his most significant signature is that of the construction of an immense palace (among his 80 others in Iraq!) that dominates Babylon. To add insult to injury, he never spent a single night inside it, but today it is more popular than the historic site itself. It’s a pleasant place where Iraqis like to spend time and stroll around, and let’s face it, the view from the palace is stunning.
If you’re in Babylon, don’t miss Karbala, one of Iraq’s holiest cities. Follow the link below to access our guide.
How to get to Babylon
How to get to Babylon from Baghdad
From Baghdad, you need to go to the Alawi bus station. From here you can easily find a shared taxi to Babylon. The fare is 10,000 IQD per person.
How to get to Babylon from Karbala
I couldn’t tell you because I took 4 different vehicles to get there by hitchhiking! You can find the bus station to get to Hillah by following the link below:
How to get to Babylon from Najaf
From Najaf bus station, you can take a shared taxi, which usually costs 10,000 IQD for about an hour’s drive.
Where to stay
You’ll have to go to Hillah to visit Babylon and you should be aware that there’s very little choice of accommodation there, only a handful of hotels. I found the Israa Tourist Hotel by asking the locals. It’s a nice, cheap place to stay. It cost me 40,000 IQD (for one person) with breakfast included, so I’d recommend it.
How to travel to Federal Iraq
Find a complete travel guide for visiting Iraq on your own. You’ll find all the information you need to make your stay in the country as easy as possible:
Must see places – formalities – visas – safety – getting around – where to stay (…)
Visit other places in Iraq