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U.S., Iraqi experts developing plan to preserve Babylon, build local tourism industry

by Seth Robson, Stars and Stripes

HILLAH, Iraq — The remains of what was once the greatest city in the world occupy a vast site on the bank of the Euphrates River.

Their roots go back 3,800 years to when the city of Babylon was the heart of a Mesopotamian empire, and the remnants include great slabs of stone that are said to be the remains of King Nebuchadnezzar’s castle. A giant stone lion guards one end of the fortifications, but the most stunning remnants were removed by European archaeologists in the early 20th century.

Now soldiers with the 172nd Infantry Brigade are exploring the ruins as part of a U.S.-Iraqi effort to preserve the ancient city and plan for the return of Western tourists.

Members of the brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment escorted a group of U.S. heritage tourism experts to the ruins last week for the first of several visits to develop a preservation and tourism plan for the area.

The State Department and the World Monuments Fund have committed $700,000 to the project, which will see U.S. and Iraqi experts develop a plan to preserve the site and develop a local tourism industry, said Diane Siebrandt, the U.S. embassy’s cultural heritage officer.

One of the 172nd soldiers who visited the ruins, 1st Lt. Bryan Kelso, 24, of Jacksonville, Fla., walked in wonder near the ancient stones.

“It’s amazing to be surrounded by this history. To think that we are standing where Alexander the Great has been,” he said, referring to the great Macedonian conqueror who died in Babylon. “Babylon is one of the oldest and first civilizations known to man. They created the wheel and the first calendars. Everybody coming here gets a sense of what this place really is and how it all traces back.”

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