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Historical Map of Baghdad by the Iraqi Academy of Science and Famed Iraqi Scholar Mustafa Jawad

Fine map describing the early and modern history of Baghdad, with richly detailed text produced by Iraq’s top scholars and a focus on the changing course of the Tigris river.

The map was prepared by al-Majma al-Ilmi al-Iraqi (the Iraqi Academy of Science) and was likely one of their first cartographic productions. The map is the work of collaboration between scholars, including Mustafa Jawad (1904-1969), one of the most important modern scholars of Iraqi history. Jawad is also known to have published an illustrated history of Baghdad and a book on antique maps of the city.

The map’s main title, Baghdad: qadiman wa-hadithan, translates to “Baghdad: then and now.” It’s subtitle, wada'aha Ahmad Susa, wa-Mustafa Jawad, wa-Ahmad Hamid al-Sarraf, notes the names of the scholars who wrote the text descriptions.

Below the scale bar at bottom left, a section of text reads rusimat min qibal al-mulaḥiẓ al-fanni Muḥammad ʻAbd al-Waḥid sanat 1951, which translates as “drawn [according to observations] by technical artist Muhammad ‘Abd Wahid in 1951.” Just outside the map border at far left, its publication place is printed as Survey [Department] Press: Baghdad an,d at far right, its publisher is noted as al-Majma al-Ilmi al-Iraqi. At top left of this map is a simple stylized compass rose.

The map is centered on the city of Baghdad and the Tigris River. Red, vertically hatched lines show historic canals and tributaries from the Tigris. In the map’s legend, at the bottom right, the symbol for these historic canals is explained.

Roads, walkways, historical sites, residential quarters, parks, mosques, railways, and bridges are also included on this map. Place names are surrounded by a red circle of radiating lines. The legend differentiates between regular streets and roads meant for cars, symbolized as continuous black parallel lines and disrupted black parallel lines respectively. This city plan is highly detailed and includes labels for landmarks and neighborhood names throughout, providing a fascinating historical account as well as an enlightening snapshot of Baghdad in the mid-twentieth century.

The text includes three articles on the history of various parts of the city written by Ahmad Susah, Mustafa Jawad, and Ahmad Hamid al-Sarraf. The articles are Mojaz tarikh khatat Baghdad (A brief history of the borders of Baghdad) at top right, Mojaz tarikh anhar Baghdad (A brief history of the rivers of Baghdad) at top left, and Mojaz tarikh jusur Baghdad (A brief history of the bridges of Baghdad) at bottom left.

Brief history of the borders of Baghdad

Mojaz tarikh khatat Baghdad (A brief history of the borders of Baghdad) traces the beginning of Baghdad to 762 CE when the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur first established Baghdad as his court, then referred to as Madinat as-Salam (The City of Peace). This original city layout can be seen at the center of this map, on the western bank of the Tigris. As described in the text, Baghdad was planned as a circular city enclosed by walls and moats, with four main entrance gates (Bab). Information is provided on the historical function of these four gates, which were named for the cities they led to: Bab al-Kufa, Bab al-Sham, Bab al-Khorasan, and Bab al-Basra. Bab al-Khorasan is noted as serving as a meeting point for all major caravan routes, marking the start of the Great Khorasan Road. During the late Abbasid era, Caliph al-Mustazhir planned to expand the enclosed central city, creating new walls and gates as well as military defenses. This expansion plan was carried out by al-Mustazhir’s successor Caliph al-Mustarshid. He constructed four new major gates: Bab as-Sultan, Bab ash-Sharqi, Bab al-Talsim and Bab al-Wastani (also known as Bab al-Khorasan).

While the original gates and city walls are described as falling ‘before or during 1258’ when the Abbasid Caliphate was defeated by Mongols, the later gates Bab as-Sultan and Bab al-Talsim remained standing until 1917, when British forces gained control of Baghdad from the Ottomans. Bab ash-Sharqi was converted into a church after the British invasion, but later demolished. Bab al-Wastani is described as the only surviving historic gate.

Brief history of the rivers of Baghdad

Mojaz tarikh anhar Baghdad (A brief history of the rivers of Baghdad) contains separate sections for the eastern and western portions of the Tigris River in Baghdad. On this map, the Tigris is referred to by its Arabic name, Dijlah. The description details how variable the water height is, changing from season to season and prone to flooding.

For the section on the western portion, much of the text describes the specific irrigation canals and dykes that once existed and were destroyed during various battles or naturally over time. As can be seen on the map, the Tigris has experienced a significant amount of human intervention and redirection in Baghdad. The course of the river was changed to create a meandering section meant to control seasonal flooding. According to the text, the Abbasids inherited the ancient and intricate canal system that redirected water from the Euphrates, Tigris and Diyala rivers to agricultural land around Baghdad and built upon it further. The author describes canals and bridges as more numerous than roads during the Caliphate era. The Nahrawan canal, situated along the eastern banks of the Tigris, is mentioned as the major historic irrigation system of the region.

Brief history of the bridges of Baghdad

Mojaz tarikh jusur Baghdad (A brief history of the bridges of Baghdad) is the briefest section, primarily consisting of descriptions of various bridges lost during historic battles. The importance of bridges to life in historic Baghdad is also discussed, since bridges were integral to connecting different neighborhoods and moving goods through the city.  

This map’s richly detailed scholarly text on the history of Baghdad and exemplary cartography mark it as a rare and wonderful option for those interested in the historic and modern Middle East.

The Iraqi Academy of Science (al-Majma al-‘Ilmi al-Iraqi) Biography

The Iraqi Academy of Science is a scientific research and cultural institution in Baghdad whose objectives include preserving the Arabic language and promoting Islamic scientific heritage. The primary function of the Academy is to serve as an archive and encourage meaningful research in literature, science and the arts. It was officially founded in 1947, although before its official establishment it functioned as an informal group of Iraqi scholars and scientists dedicated to the same mission. The Iraqi Academy of Science traces these early beginnings to about 1921, the start of the monarchic period in Iraq. The Academy is well known as the publisher of its own scientific journal, Majallat al-Majma' al-'Ilmi al-'Iraqi (The Journal of the Iraqi Academy of Science.)

Founded only four years before this map was printed, this example was likely on the first cartographic items made by the Society.


This map is an extremely rare survival. We locate only the example of this map held at Princeton.

Condition Description
Restoration in top margin near centerfold, with paper added in facsimile. Just toughing neat line. A few minor tears, expertly restored on verso.
Iraqi Academy of Science, “About the Academy,” Accessed August 9, 2019,; Gholamali Haddad Adel, Mohammad Jafar Elmi, Hassan Taromi-Rad, ed., Historical Sources of the Islamic World: Selected Entries from Encyclopaedia of the World of Islam (EWI Press, Jan 31, 2013) 105-109; Mustafa Jawad and Ahmad Susa, A Detailed Guide to Baghdad's Map: In Baghdad's Plans, Old and Modern (Baghdad: Scientific Academy Press, 1958). ACA.