Basra also written Basrah (Arabic: البصرة; BGN: Al Başrah) is the capital of Basra Governorate, located on the Shatt al-Arab river in southern Iraq between Kuwait and Iran. It had an estimated population of 952,441 as of 2007 and 2,009,767 as of 2012. Basra is also Iraq's main port, although it does not have deep water access, which is handled at the port of Umm Qasr.
The city is part of the historic location of Sumer, the home of Sinbad the Sailor, and a proposed location of the Garden of Eden. It played an important role in early Islamic history and was built in 636 CE or 14 AH. It is Iraq's second largest and most populous city after Baghdad. Basra is consistently one of the hottest cities on the planet, with summer temperatures regularly at least 45 degrees celsius.
The city was called by many names throughout its history, Basrah being the most common. In Arabic the word basrah means 'the overwatcher', which might have been an allusion to the city's origin as an Arab military base against the Sassanids. Some sources claim that the name is derived from the Persian word Bas-rah, which means "where many paths meet". Others have argued that the name is derived from the Aramaic word basratha, meaning 'place of huts' or 'settlement'. During the pre-Islamic era, the area was known to the Arabs as al-Khariba due to the existence of an ancient city called al-Kharba. After the present city was built, it was called by many names, including "the mother of Iraq", "the reservoir of Arabs", "the prosperous city" and "al-Faiha".
The present city was founded in 636 as an encampment and garrison for Arab tribesmen constituting the armies of the Rashidun Caliph Umar a few kilometres south of the present city, where a tell still marks its site. While defeating the forces of the Sassanid Empire there, the Muslim commander Utbah ibn Ghazwan erected his camp near the site of a small Persian settlement called Vaheštābād Ardašīr, which was destroyed by the Arabs.
In 639 Umar established this encampment as a city with five districts, and appointed Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as its first governor. Abu Musa led the conquest of Khuzestan from 639 to 642 and was ordered by Umar to aid Uthman ibn Abu al-ʿAs, then fighting Iran from a new, more easterly miṣr at Tawwaj In 650, the Rashidun Caliph Uthman reorganised the Persian frontier, installed ʿAbdullah ibn Amir as Basra's governor, and put the military's southern wing under Basra's control. Ibn Amir led his forces to their final victory over Yazdegerd III, the Sassanid King of Kings.
In 656, Uthman was murdered and Ali was appointed Caliph. Ali first installed Uthman ibn Hanif as Basra's governor, who was followed by ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbbas. These men held the city for Ali until the latter's death in 661.
The Sufyanids held Basra until Yazid I's death in 683. The Sufyanids' first governor was Umayyad ʿAbdullah, a renowned military leader, commanding fealty and financial demands from Karballah, but poor governor. In 664, Muʿawiyah replaced him with Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, often called "ibn Abihi" ("son of his own father"), who became infamous for draconian rules of public order. On Ziyad's death in 673, his son ʿUbaydullah ibn Ziyad became governor. In 680, Yazid I ordered ʿUbaydullah to keep order in Kufa as a reaction to Hussein ibn Ali's popularity as the grandson of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. ʿUbaydullah took over the control of Kufa. Hussein sent his cousin as an ambassador to the people of Kufa, but ʿUbaydullah executed Hussein's cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel amid fears of an uprising. ʿUbaydullah amassed an army of thousands of soldiers and fought Hussein's army of approximately 70 in a place called Karbala near Kufa. ʿUbaydullah's army was victorious; Hussein and his followers were killed and their heads were sent to Yazid as proof.
Ibn al-Harith spent his year in office trying to put down Nafi' ibn al-Azraq's Kharijite uprising in Khuzestan. In 685, Ibn al-Zubayr, requiring a practical ruler, appointed Umar ibn Ubayd Allah ibn Ma'mar Finally, Ibn al-Zubayr appointed his own brother Mus'ab. In 686, the revolutionary al-Mukhtar led an insurrection at Kufa, and put an end to ʿUbaydullah ibn Ziyad near Mosul. In 687, Musʿab defeated al-Mukhtar with the help of Kufans who Mukhtar exiled.
Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan reconquered Basra in 691, and Basra remained loyal to his governor al-Hajjaj during Ibn Ashʿath's mutiny 699–702. However, Basra did support the rebellion of Yazid ibn al-Muhallab against Yazid II during the 720s. In the 740s, Basra fell to as-Saffah of the Abbasid Caliphate.
During the time of the Abbasids Basra became an intellectual centre as it was the home city of the Arab polymath Ibn al-Haytham, the Arab literary giant al-Jahiz, and the Sufi mystic Rabia Basri. The Zanj Rebellion by the agricultural slaves of the lowlands affected the area. In 871, the Zanj sacked Basra. In 923, the Qarmatians, an extremist Muslim sect, invaded and devastated Basra. From 945 to 1055, a Buyid dynasty ruled Baghdad and most of Iraq. Abu al Qasim al-Baridis, who still controlled Basra and Wasit, were defeated and their lands taken by the Buyids in 947.
Sanad al-Dawla al-Habashi was governor of Basra and built a library of 15,000 books. Diya' al-Dawla was the Buyid ruler of Basra during the 980s. He was the son of 'Adud al-Dawla: see Samsam al-Dawla as there appears to have been a great deal of rivalry in the ad-Dawla group.
The Great Friday Mosque was constructed in Basra. In 1122, Imad ad-Din Zengi received Basra as a fief. In 1126, Zengi suppressed a revolt and in 1129, Dabis looted the Basra state treasury. A 1200 map "on the eve of the Mongol invasions" shows the Abbasid Caliphate as ruling lower Iraq and, presumably, Basra. In 1258, the Mongols under Hulegu Khan sacked Baghdad and ended Abbasid rule. By some accounts, Basra capitulated to the Mongols to avoid a massacre. The Mamluk Bahri dynasty map (1250–1382) shows Basra as being under their area of control, and the Mongol Dominions map (1300–1405) shows Basra as being under their control.
In 1290 fighting erupted at the Persian Gulf port of Basra among the Genoese, between the Guelph and the Ghibelline factions. In 1327, Ibn Battuta visited Basra, which was in decline with the great mosque being 2 miles (3.2 km) out of town. An Ilkhanid governor received him. In 1411, the Jalayirid leader was ousted from Basra by the Black Sheep Turkmen. In 1523, the Portuguese under the command of António Tenreiro crossed from Aleppo to Basra. By 1546, the Turks had reached Basra. In 1550, the Portuguese threatened Basra. In 1624, the Portuguese assisted Basra Pasha in repelling a Persian invasion. The Portuguese were granted a share of customs and freedom from tolls. From about 1625 until 1668, Basra and the Delta marshlands were in the hands of local chieftains independent of the Ottoman administration at Baghdad.
Basra was, for a long time, a flourishing commercial and cultural centre. It was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1668. It was fought over by Turks and Persians and was the scene of repeated attempts at resistance.
In 1911, the Encyclopædia Britannica reported some Jews and a few Christians living in Basra, but no Turks other than Ottoman officials. In 1884 the Ottomans responded to local pressure from the Shi'as of the south by detaching the southern districts of the Baghdad vilayet and creating a new vilayet of Basra.