This article gives an extensive, detailed historic overview of Baghdad's unique architectural heritage from its ancient Sumerian roots in design through the Islamic and modern periods by an Iraqi professor of architecture. The functionally and aesthetically integrated residential architecture of the ancient Sumerians, its labyrinthine network of abutting houses with open inner-courtyards, ingenious ventilation systems, and enclosed balconies (shanāshīl) that formed the warp and weft1 of the fabric of the urban society which it supported for millennia is disappearing. The ancient patterns which still survive in Baghdad are not only emblematic of Middle Eastern architecture but are the essential imprint of Babel (Babylon) – the mother of all cities. The author demonstrates how modernization and rapid changes brought on by economic growth and population explosions led to unregulated building projects that were often conceived and implemented by foreign firms in abject disregard of the unique and irreplaceable cultural heritage of Iraq. Landmarks of culture have already been lost, and there is much still to lose, but it is not too late if proper funds, urban planning and action at the level of the individual can be marshalled to preserve the living museum of Baghdad's eternal architecture that is the most conspicuous physical expression of its social, cultural and historic identity.

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