National Geographic : 1966 Dec
Between villages, few people appeared in the land: Half a dozen cultivators, directing irrigation water into fields of green wheat. A solitary horseman, rifle in hand. A file of wom en bearing brush bundles five times their size (pages 744-5). A herdsman leading camels to pasture. A tribe of gypsies in tattered splen dor, mocking us with reckless grins. A dusty wolf trotted over the wasteland and an eagle circled, watching. When Terah and Abram passed through central Mesopotamia, Babylon was the capi tal of all the land. It was one of the greatest walled cities ever built and the seat of Ham murabi, the giver of laws. Following the west bank of the Euphrates northwestward, Terah would not have en tered the city, which lies across the water. But he would have seen the eight-storied zig gurat, greater than that of Ur, and marveled at it. Today the ziggurat is gone, razed by warfare and weather. The ruins that remain are those of the Babylon built by Nebuchad nezzar, more than a thousand years later. INCE "all roads meet at Baghdad," ac cording to ancient tradition, ours turned briefly away from the Euphrates at Bab ylon and headed for that city's modern equiv alent. Baghdad is well situated. It straddles the Tigris at the point where it and the Eu phrates come closest together. With a popula tion of almost a million, it is Iraq's major city and contains most of the nation's indus try (pages 748-9). Yet, in this land of ancient towns, Baghdad is a scant twelve hundred years old. It does not relate to Abram's day or route; and so we resumed the Euphrates road in pursuit of the party that had passed this way almost four millenniums before, headed for Haran. The ancient landscape has been altered by a water project at Ar Ramadi, where flood waters that once devastated the delta are di verted into a natural depression now called Habbanlyah Lake. This is one of the new projects through which revenue from Iraq's oil-rich substrata is being used to improve its water-poor surface. Still, the level lands along the river look much as they did in the time of Terah's trav els (following pages). The fields between wa ter and wasteland are green with wheat and barley in the early spring, or red-brown from recent plowing. Such fields are called Al Sawad, meaning "the dark lands," contrast ing them with the pallid desert on whose edge they lie like elongated oases. At Hit, 400 miles upstream from the sea but less than a hundred feet above sea level, the delta of the Euphrates ends. Here the bluffs close in. Here, too, an oddity must have caught the eyes (and nose) of Abram and his companions as it did ours: a natural tar pit, stirred by a bubbling flow of noxious gas, "A dry and thirsty land"-as the Psalmist sang-still drinks from the Euphrates. Riv er current turns the creaking water wheels at Hit; pottery jars lashed along the rims splash dollop after dollop into an aqueduct. The chocolate water, flowing to riverside fields, turns gardens green. Boys use a crude net to comb the river for fish.