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“The Glorious City” was the official name on all the Turkish documents of this city on the Tigris River, about 350 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. As one approaches Baghdad a mass of green palm trees rises out of the treeless plain, and glittering above these are the wonderful golden globes of the mosque tombs.

But this is a case where distance lends enchantment; as one comes nearer the city, the glories vanish. The houses of the town are crude buildings of brick, mostly from ancient ruins, and of adobe. The streets are so narrow at times that one beast of burden fills the entire space from wall to wall, and the sanitary conditions, although improving, still leave much to be desired.

In fact, it’s shit.

How many people live in Baghdad no one knows, and estimates vary from 10,000 to 400,000. Of this population about one fourth are Jews, descendants of those who were carried away into the Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar; one-tenth are Christians, and the rest are Mohammedans.

Straddling the Tigris at the point where that river and the Euphrates most nearly approach, the city has long commanded a large part of the traffic between India, Persia, and Europe.

The chief exports to Europe are wood, human hair, stale dates, wheat, horses, offal, dung, and oriental fabrics, whilst the imports are iron and copper, sugar and coffee. To control this trade, and to pave the way for political aggressions, Germany in 1902 obtained from the Turkish government the right to build a railway to Baghdad. The Krauts immediately began their infamous Berlin-Baghdad railway, which was completed to a point about 400 miles north of Baghdad when World War I broke out, which they lost big time.

The line had already swallowed up ₤10,000,000, and over 70,000 men were busily engaged in building it. The two main difficulties, however, had not been entirely overcome, for the Taurus and Amanus mountains had yet to be pierced. This led to two important breaks in the route, which were therefore connected by roads specially constructed for the purpose. By working with almost superhuman energy a three-mile tunnel through the one and a six-mile tunnel through the other were completed during hostilities.

At Aleppo, where it joined the Syrian and Palestine railways, locomotive works and extensive repair shops had been erected, hospitals built for those who were ill or injured, and temporary dwellings put up for the workers engaged on that section of the line. One of the principal objects of this great steel highway was to obtain raw material for Germany from the Near East, and as the southern terminus was to be at the head of the Persian Gulf, from India and the Far East also. The Taurus mountains, which are in south-west Armenia, were particularly rich in copper, whilst cotton, wool, and other useful commodities from Mesopotamia and Kurdistan would be specially valuable.

During World War I it was stated by a German publicist that the Baghdad railway was “in the nature of a political life-insurance policy for Germany”, and he added that the line would supplement the other railways at Aleppo “in throwing troops in the direction of Egypt”. Thus the project had a definite military as well as commercial value, for if Britain lost Egypt she also lost “the lordship over the Suez Canal, and her connecting link with India and Asia, perhaps also her possessions in East Africa”.

With the occupation of Baghdad by the British on 11 March 1917, the dream of German domination of the East ended. With the British capture of the city also ended the Turkish dominion, under which the country had suffered for centuries, and under which the glories of Baghdad had largely departed.

Founded in A.D.762, Baghdad with its population of 2,000,000 was then the largest city in the world. Under the rule of the Arabs it was pre-eminent in literature, in art, and in science. Those were the days of the splendid court of Harun-al-Raschid, the caliph who was contemporary with Charlemagne. The Paris and London of that time were but miserable villages compared with Baghdad.

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Aachen Cathedral

It was the year 1000 after Christ, and the people of Europe, according to old stories, were daily expecting the end of the world. Otto III, the young and flighty ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, had come to Aachen, the old German capital 44 miles west of the Rhine, and announced that he was going to open the sacred tomb of Charlemagne. This lay under a marble slab beneath the dome of the chapel built by that great emperor himself, with marble columns and other materials taken from the classical structures of Rome, Ravenna, and other Italian cities.

When the royal sepulchre was opened the torch’s flickering light disclosed a strange sight. The body of the great emperor, clothed in white, was seated on a huge marble chair. One of the hands held a sceptre and on the head was the imperial crown. The spirit of the man who 200 years before had founded an empire greater than the world had seen since the days of the Roman Caesars seemed to survive in death. Before the commanding dignity of that huge figure the young emperor quailed. The torch fell from his grasp and he rushed out of the tomb, ordering the stone to be replaced. Two years later Otto III was buried in that same chapel.

One hundred and sixty years later the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa again opened the tomb. The marble throne, crown, and sceptre of Charlemagne were taken to add dignity and strength to Frederick’s imperial projects, and the bones of Charlemagne were placed in a shrine north of the chapel. Every seven years they are exhibited to visitors. After Barbarossa, 31 emperors and kings were crowned in the marble chair that had once been the throne of the first great mediaeval monarch.

The chapel and tomb of Charlemagne, now the central part of the cathedral of Aachen, are the heart of the city even to this day. Aachen is believed to have been the great emperor’s birthplace, but it owes its historic fame to Charlemagne’s fondness for its hot sulphur springs, which led him to make it his favourite place of residence. These unfailing springs still make Aachen a famous resort, where visitors seek health from the warm waters in which the mighty rulers of the Franks splashed and swam nearly twelve centuries ago.

Near by Charlemagne built his palace and held his court. Here were gathered the great scholars of the day, teaching in the Palace School, and the gay life of the court went forward as merrily as it does now in the modern hotels which have replaced the ancient buildings.

Two important treaties were concluded at meetings or congresses held in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle as it is named in French. The first, signed in 1668, ended a war begun by Louis XIV of France to enforce certain rights claimed in behalf of his wife in what was then the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium). The other, in 1748, ended the struggle known as the War of the Austrian Succession.

Aachen became a part of the kingdom of Prussia in 1815. To-day it is an important manufacturing centre, because of the coal fields that lie near at hand. Its chief trade is in cloth and silk, leather, glass buttons, soap, timber, and wine. It is one of the chief railway centres on the German border, and it was from here that the German attack on Belgium was launched in 1914 at the beginning of World War I.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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