Bab al-Talsim
Baghdad, Iraq
The Talisman gate in Baghdad was destroyed by the Ottoman army in 1917 when they withdrew from the city. Its destruction was a great loss as it had some fine thirteenth century carving and distinguishing ornamentation.

The date of its construction is not clear but it was described by Ibn Jubayr in 1185 and is mentioned in the accounts of the Mongol siege. The inscription on the building reads that it was built and restored in 1221 by the Abbasid Caliph Nasser li-din-Illah as part of the construction of a large defensive wall intended to protect Baghdad from invaders and floods. It was named "Talisman" after the unusual inscriptions and figures carved on its upper walls and gate.

Before 1221 it was known as the White Gate and as Bab Halba meaning racecourse referring to a hippodrome located outside the wall limits. It is said that the Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah on his visit to Baghdad in 1086 rode from his palace to that spot where he played a game of Polo (or Suljan), after which the field was commonly used to play this game. In 1638 the gate was been closed after the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV conquered Baghdad and entered its gate.

The gate is built of burnt bricks and consists of a cylindrical tower connected to Baghdad's northeastern ramparts surrounded by a moat. Its façade is punctured at approximately mid-height by a series of loophole windows toped by an inscription band wrapping around the building. The façade ends with a second line of pointed arch openings on the entire circumference serving as access doors to a circular balcony supported on brackets.

The inscription and the carvings are the most important features in the building. Despite the information it carries concerning the gate's construction, its sponsors and restoration by Nasser li-din-Illah, the high relief above the gate presents unfamiliar pictorial representations of human figures that must have roots in Mongol sculptural animation. The gate's arch is built of intersecting stone voussoirs set in a decorated frame. The decoration shows a pair of winged dragon-snakes and a human figure sitting cross-legged between them in a way to represent the glorious conqueror. They haven't been attributed to any sultan although they might be of a later addition carved to commemorate Sultan Murad IV entering Baghdad by. These figures are carved in stone and lie on an intricate background of floral interweaving patterns incised in stone.


Langenegger, Felix. Beiträge zur kenntis der baukunst des Irâq (heutiges Babylonien) Bautechnik,/b baukonstruktionen und aussehen der baugegenstände unter teilweiser bezugnahme auf die baukunst der vergangenheit des landes sowie auf die gesamte baukunst des Islâm, 88-90. Dresden, G. Kühtmann, 1911.

Le Strange G. Baghdad During the Abbasid Caliphate, 291-292. Greenwood Press. Connecticut, 1983.
Baghdad, Iraq
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Associated Names
1221/617 AH
Style Periods
Variant Names
Bab al-Talsim
Talisman Gate
Bab Halbah
Halba Gate
White Gate
Building Usages