(AFP) – As a child, Adnan Khalaf used to marvel at the Iraqi city of Basra’s “shanasheel”, finely crafted bay windows complete with intricate wooden latticework and ornate stained glass.
Today, the Iraqi retiree can only watch as the hallmarks of his hometown – “the city of shanasheel” – crumble out of neglect.
Authorities in Basra, the capital of Iraq’s richest oil province, are struggling to provide the bare minimum of services to its inhabitants, as nepotism and corruption divert lucrative revenues from the black gold.
But the southern port city’s “golden age” was not all that long ago. At 71, Khalaf remembers it well.
He can still name the city’s wealthy old families – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – who lived behind elaborate shanasheel in traditional homes along canals of Basra’s Old City.
“But the city has been neglected, rubbish has been dumped into its waters,” said Khalaf. “No one cares about it anymore.”
The latticework windows – also known as mashrabiya – date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, according to Abdelhaq al-Moudhaffar, head of the city’s Palace of Culture and Arts.
They spread to other cities in Iraq, including Baghdad, and across the Levant and to Egypt.