Bonus Material: 1,000 Year Old Baghdad Book Market Survives Bombing

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Page of old arabic writing

There’s an old saying in Iraq concerning literature: “In Cairo they write. In Beirut they print. In Baghdad we read.”

The intellectual heart of Baghdad has, for much of the past millennium, been Mutanabi Street, where many of the city’s bookstores and most popular cafes are located. The street is named after the first century poet Abul Tayyeb al-Mutanabi, perhaps the most revered of all Arabic language poets. Fridays are traditionally the market day and especially busy for the city’s book merchants who use the street for a kind of open-air book bazaar.

On Monday, March 5, 2007, a car bomb exploded on Mutanabi street, killing 38 and injuring scores more. The street was littered with paper and ash. The Shabandar café, where intellectuals had gathered since 1917, was badly damaged, along with many book and stationary stores. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In December of last year, the street was reopened to pedestrian — only traffic, and, according to recent reports, is thriving  — proving once again that the pen is indeed mightier than the terrorist.

USA Today: Has an interesting interactive map about the bombing and rebirth.

New York Times: Offers a before and after photo of the street.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.