A house in the Iraqi skyline turns into a museum that summarizes the spirit of the south of the country


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His Highness (Iraq) (AFP)

Distinctive wooden balconies known as Shanashel reflect the Iraqi heritage, looking out from the facade of the house of Hajj Abdul Latif in the city of Samawah, which he donated to turn into a museum that reflects the spirit and nature of southern Iraq, where the countryside and tribal life.

Abd al-Latif al-Jabalawi, an octogenarian known as “Haji” for performing the rituals, donated his 196-square-meter house, located in Najjar Street, in the heart of this city, 300 kilometers south of Baghdad, to be a heritage museum.

Al-Gabalawi was brought up and raised as is the case with three generations of his extended family, grandparents, children and grandchildren, in this house consisting of 13 rooms decorated with green, blue and yellow windows.

Al-Hajji tells Agence France-Presse that everyone left the house, “especially with the desire of the new generation to live in a separate house,” after he used to gather in the eighties of the last century all family members distributed among the rooms distinguished by colored lighting through green, blue and yellow windows linked by steep stairs.

On one side of the house was a stove known as a “fire dome” for heating and preparing food, and on the other side was a well of water in which a jar hung with a rope.

In time, carelessness crept into the house. Al-Hajji recalls that in recent years, “I used to pass by him and watched his condition, so I felt that he blamed me as if he was saying ‘Is this how loyalty is?’, So I was in pain so much that I pledged myself to restore life to him.”

He explains, “I bought the shares of all the heirs so that it would be mine alone, and in 2015 I decided to restore it and found an architect specializing in heritage.”

Al-Hajji paid 250 million dinars (about 200,000 dollars) for this work, knowing that it was met with opposition from most of his family members, including his eldest son Ali.

“At first we did not approve of my father’s project because it was too expensive and the house was dilapidated,” Ali told AFP. “We asked to demolish it to build a project in its place because it is located in the city center, but my father refused vehemently.”

“Life has returned to the home again, and it has become a destination for visitors and a symbol that defines our family. We now know that the father was right,” he added.

After the restoration of the house, pictures of old and other tribal sheikhs from the south of the country hung on the walls of the house, and an old wooden cupboard was placed in one of its rooms, in addition to an old radio and cooking utensils from which time was eaten.

The Department of Antiquities in Al-Muthanna Governorate, the poorest governorate of Iraq, was unable to support the restoration project that made the house a cultural monument embodying the regions of southern Iraq, which have marshes, countryside and deserts, and are famous for their tribal character.

“Our role is to protect these heritage sites (…) and we provide guards for this purpose if necessary,” Mustafa Al-Ghazi, head of the province’s heritage unit, told AFP.

Ali proudly notes that before the outbreak of the Corona virus in Iraq, “literary, musical and poetry evenings were held at home and visited by many heritage lovers,” indicating that he also used a site for filming a heritage tape titled “The Spirit of Heaven.”


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