Baghdad rediscovers Al-Mutanabbi Street after renovation |

BAGHDAD–

The Iraqi capital Baghdad on Saturday celebrated the renovation of the historic heart of its book trade, the latest sign of an artistic renaissance after decades of conflict and unrest.

In a city where explosions could once mean only one thing, violence, colorful fireworks lit the sky during the festivities organized by the Baghdad Municipality to inaugurate the renovated Al-Mutanabbi Street.

Its new look is accompanied by art exhibitions, gallery openings, book fairs and festivals reflecting an emerging cultural renaissance, reminiscent of a golden age when Baghdad was considered one of the cultural capitals of the country. Arab World.

Al-Mutanabbi Street was first opened in 1932 by King Faisal I and is named after the famous 10th century poet Abul Tayeb al-Mutanabbi, born during the Abbasid dynasty in what would become Iraqi today.

A narrow street in the heart of old Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi has long attracted students and young people, usually on Fridays. But it is also frequented by intellectuals and older bibliophiles.

Normalcy still hangs by a thread in the Iraqi capital, where rocket and drone attacks sometimes target its heavily fortified green zone and where a suicide bombing in July at a market killed more than 30 people.

There was high security for costumed performers and musicians performing along the car-free road of new cobblestones.

The road is lined with shops, freshly painted and glittering, but most were closed. String lights adorned the ornate brick facades and wrought-iron balconies.

Private banks financed the work which began in August.

– ‘The island of beauty’ –

“Since the 1960s, I had come here every week to look at the books on the stalls and meet friends,” said veteran journalist and writer Zoheir al-Jazairi, delighted with the latest transformation of the streets.

“It is an island of beauty in the heart of Baghdad. You notice the difference compared to the rest of the city, ”he said, lamenting the often overlooked heritage of the capital.

Stretching for just under a kilometer, the street begins with a statue of its namesake overlooking the Tigris and ends with an arch adorned with the poet’s quotes.

Visitors can find Arabic translations of American bestsellers alongside the textbooks.

There are titles in a range of languages ​​and every now and then a hidden treasure can be found tucked away between the selections.

Years of sectarian violence followed the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The rise of the extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 saw more brutality and bloodshed.

Iraq is trying to recover from its years of violence but remains hampered by political divisions, corruption and poverty.

Even Al-Mutanabbi Street, a hotbed of intellectual life with its cafes and books, could not escape the violence of the past.

In March 2007, a suicide car bomb killed 30 people and injured 60 others.

Mohamed Adnan, 28, took over a bookstore from his father, who died in the explosion.

“He was killed, our neighbors too and several dear ones to us,” said the history graduate, praising the renovation.

“I wish those who left were alive to see how the street has turned,” he said.

On the banks of the Tigris, a singer hummed traditional ballads, under the fireworks.

James C. Tibbs