A visit to the house of dreams

Author Najem Wali revisits the magnificent house of Iraq’s first Minister of Finance, Sassoon Eskell, on the banks of the Tigris.

„House of Dreams“ that is the only truly fitting name for this building, I find. I can remember that every time I walked past it back when the country was still called the „Republic of Iraq“ I would think of the master craftsman who once built it. That was at the beginning of the 20th century, in the times of the great craftsmen (before architects and engineers took over construction) whose intuitive artistic skills were guided more by fantasy than reality. And even today, despite all the changes that have been made, anyone who looks at the house, standing there defiantly, can’t but be amazed by the skill of Master Kathim Ibn Arif at having created such a magnificent and elegant building.

Everything about it is beautiful: the curves of the arches, the doors, the balustrades on the roof, the wooden-framed windows, the sweeping balcony high above the Tigris. It’s almost as if each stone of the house, set back slightly from historical Al Rashid Street, had been gently stroked and lovingly formed by the master’s hand. As if that hand had never realised that the owner of this building, which could have comfortably housed a large family, would remain unmarried his whole life long. Yes, it really seems as if that Baghdad master builder knew with an instinct unfettered by university study that this house would have to be large enough to accommodate all the dreams of its future occupant. That it would have to have as many rooms and levels as the dreams of the man who would sleep and wake up in it. As if the master had known that this house on the banks of the Tigris in the centre of Baghdad would stand the test of time – an enduring testimony not just to the inability of a whole series of governments to strike it from collective historical memory, but above all to the dreams of masters long gone and masters yet to come.

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