Saddam's dining room (now public restaurant) with calligraphy and verses that are commonly about Allah written about Saddam
Saddam was known for his incredible extravagance as his country starved. He had numerous palaces, estimates run between 40-80 costing $2 billion, throughout Iraq. One palace in Baghdad even had a tank on a tall palace wall. I remember the feeling of paranoia as I would try to peek through the peripheries of my eyelids every time we would drive past that particular palace. I just wanted to know what was behind those walls! Or, atleast, how on earth they got that tank up on the concrete wall.
With his fall, pictures surfaced of his palaces being looted by randoms or being used as a basketball court by foreign troops.
One of his palaces, in Hilla (home of the Babylonian ruins), is to be converted to a museum. 90 kilometers outside of Baghdad. His palace was designed to mimic a Ziggurat. At four-storeys, some 1,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in order for the residence to be built. With Saddam's fall, it was understood that the palace was clearly never used and had unfortunately become looted. Even the lightswitches on the wall were stolen.
Beneath the palace is the ancient 600-room palace of palace of King Nebuchadnezzar II. Archeologists were horrified as Saddam laid 600 million bricks over the 2,500 year old site, (random fact: the new bricks began to crack 10 years after construction). Inscribed in the bricks: "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon."
The palace is now open, when the military feels like it should be, for outsiders to roam. Of course, outsiders do not roam because the road to the ruins was known as a death road in its recent past, leaving the palace and the ruins virtually empty.
As we crossed through the gates to his palace, I couldn't help but feel that 1984-esque, big brother paranoia. Is he watching? The last time I was here, crossing these gates meant getting shot. For those of you as curious as I have been to get a micro-glimpse of how Saddam lived, enjoy.
**Update. It is February 2010, 1:45 am, and I am working on my thesis re the Iraq Museum. Slightly delirious. But check out what I just found! This dude photographed Saddam's palaces while being used as housing by US troops. http://www.richardmosse.com/photography.php?pid=4