Al-Midan district, Baghdad – photo of a middle-aged man standing in front of shelving full of small pieces of equipment, placed against an old wall.
This carpenter is all about his work, and his work only. The signs on the wall above his stall read, "Don’t disturb, or speak or smoke". Al-Midan district, Baghdad, February 2019. All photos by the author.

Photos of the Baghdad Neighbourhoods Where Time Stands Still

Even after the trauma of a bloody war, the streets of these old neighbourhoods in Baghdad, Iraq, are still full of life.

The following article was written by Aya Mansour, an Iraqi poet, writer, journalist and photographer born and raised in Baghdad. It originally appeared on VICE Arabia.

I love Baghdad's old, traditional alleyways. Neighbourhoods like Al Fadl, Bataween, Kareemat, Qanbr Ali, Shawaka, and Sadriya have maintained their unique identities, marked by their hundred-year-old houses and stores. Walking around these areas, I feel both nostalgia and grief when I see how little we’ve cared for these streets that once shaped Baghdad, prior to the war and the construction of modern buildings.  


As a journalist, I love to come here and write stories about the people I meet, people whose voices and faces aren’t usually represented in mainstream media. Even more than that, though, I just like walking around and taking pictures. 

In these neighbourhoods everything is impregnated with the sense of simplicity that lies in old traditions. The handmade crafts displayed on market stalls, neighbours exchanging kleicha (traditional Iraqi date cookies), people gathering every afternoon for tea while the kids play football on the streets, their mothers chatting in the background. It seems like nothing important has happened here for the past few decades.

In reality, it’s a miracle these streets are still here today. In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, Baghdad's old residential neighbourhoods saw a lot of suicide attacks and car bombings, especially between 2007 and 2008. Thousands of people lost their lives while just going about their business in their own neighbourhoods of this embattled city. People died while praying at their mosque or shopping at their market; they died queuing at checkpoints or eating out at restaurants. 


For instance, the market in the central Sadriya neighbourhood was targeted multiple times. On the 3rd of February, 2007, Sunni insurgents blew up a truck in this majority Shiite neighbourhood, killing at least 130 people and injuring over 300. Two months later, on the 18th of April, another car bombing killed as many as 140 people near the market and injured a further 150, leading the authorities to close off streets and restrict traffic to the area.

Baghdad, Al-Salam district – A group of young girls and boys standing in a row and smiling, posing with a blue football.

The popular football team of the Al-Salam neighbourhood taking a break at half time. January 2022.

Despite all that, the Sadriya market has survived. Women still buy their favourite fabrics here and get them tailored, the craftsmen still show off their products and so do the fishermen, the clockmakers, the carpenters, and the furniture restorers. Grocery stores are still an extension of their owner’s homes, just like they’ve always been. 

These areas are often forgotten by the Iraqi government, which tends to pour money into new high-rise buildings and malls. Residents have to endure frequent power cuts and water shortages, and most houses are wrecks. People also struggle with unemployment, and make money by selling their own handmade products – sponges, furniture, bags, carpets, clothing – which are rapidly becoming obsolete in the age of capitalism.


In these neighbourhoods, people often invite me into their homes for lunch and a cup of tea. I find I am only able to capture people going about their daily lives spontaneously when I choose not to use a big camera. Most women initially shy away from the camera, but I find that when I use my phone, they become more natural and relaxed. Then, they ask me to see the pictures and smile, saying: “You made us look prettier than [Egyptian actress] Laila Elwi.”

Scroll down to see more pictures:

Nahrawan district, Baghdad – three young boys, a young girl and a teenager sitting on a large red carpet in front of a grey wall and interacting with each other.

Children smiling shyly at the camera, waiting for their father’s return. Their dad works in construction, and he invited me to visit the family. Nahrawan district, Baghdad. February 2022.

Kadhimiya district, Baghdad – Middle-aged woman wearing a long black abaya and a leopard headscarf inside a small shop filled with food and other household products. She's about to give two bottles of pepsi to a little girl wearing a pink and gold top.

A woman transformed a room in her house into a small local store for household necessities. In the picture, she’s selling Pepsi on credit to a little girl. Kadhimiya district, Baghdad. March 2021.

Al-Shawaka district, Baghdad – woman wearing a long polka-dotted dress and a floral headscarf, hanging clothes on some clothing lines on her rooftop.

A woman hanging clothes on the roof of her rundown home. Al-Shawaka district, Baghdad, January 2021.

Sadriya District, Baghdad – a narrow, cobble-stone street. In the foreground, an old lady is sitting on the step at the entrance of her house.

A woman sitting on her doorstep to get some air after a power cut. Sadriya District, Baghdad. August 2019.

Al-Midan District, Baghdad – view from outside of narrow shop filled with clocks. Inside, a man is looking at a watch with a magnifying monocle.

A clockmaker and repairer, who claims to be the owner of the oldest clock repair shop in Baghdad. He inherited this craft from his father, who learned it from his grandfather and grand grand-father. He spends his day among ticking clocks, and owns some of the rarest and oldest types of clocks in the city. Al-Midan District, Baghdad. December 2021.

Sadriya Market, Baghdad – two old men, one sitting the other standing in the middle of a shop filled with old furniture and couch stuffing. One of them is smiling and giving the photographer the thumbs up.

An 80-year-old furniture restorer who’s still working even though his job is rapidly disappearing in Iraq. Standing next to him is his neighbour and friend who likes to spend time at his shop despite the summer heat. Sadriya Market, Baghdad. July 2018.

Sadriya Market, Baghdad – foreground: fruits and vegetables, including cucumber, tomatoes and watermelon. Background: old man napping on a couch.

A greengrocer napping inside his shop. Sadriya Market, Baghdad. June 2019.2019.

Sadriya district, Baghdad – old man wearing a long blue robe, sitting on a chair in the street with one crutch.

A resident of the Sadriya neighbourhood who likes to sit in front of his house and chat with his neighbours. August 2019.

Karimat district, Baghdad – A woman in a black abaya speaking with her neighbour who's wearing a leopard-print dress and a blue headscarf, while a small black cat crosses the street in front of them.

Two neighbours gossiping. Karimat district, Baghdad, November 2021.