updated 11/11/2008 8:40:43 PM ET 2008-11-12T01:40:43

Babylon is the most famous of Iraq's more than 12,000 archaeological sites. The ancient capital developed into one of the world's first urban societies more than 4,000 years ago. But it went into decline after Persia captured it 2,500 years ago.

Other ancient sites and museums in Iraq and their status, when known:

The Sumerian city of Ur, near Nasiriyah in the south and, according to the Bible, the home of Abraham, the biblical patriarch. The ruins contain a largely intact ziggurat, or temple structure. A team led by the British Museum concluded some damage may have been done by coalition troops from nearby Tallil air base. Access is now restricted.

Uruk, a Sumerian city southeast of Baghdad. Gilgamesh, a legendary king of the city, became the subject of an epic tale. The British Museum says the earliest evidence of writing was found in Eanna, an original settlement of Uruk. The writing appears on clay tablets later used as building foundations.

Ctesiphon, capital of the Persian empire, on the Tigris river southeast of Baghdad. The Roman emperor Julian II was so entranced by Ctesiphon's architecture that he ordered his legions to leave it alone. During the 1991 Gulf War, shock waves from bombing triggered cracks at the ruins, which contain the world's widest single-span arch of unreinforced brickwork.

Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, in northern Iraq. The Bible's Book of Jonah mentions the city, said to have had magnificent gates and canals. Nineveh lies across the Tigris from Mosul, where insurgents are active today.

Nimrud, another ancient Assyrian city near Mosul. The Bible refers to it as Kalakh. Excavations in the 19th century uncovered huge sculptures of winged lions. Iraqi experts uncovered hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry and ornaments there in the late 1980s.

The National Museum in Baghdad remains closed after severe 2003 looting and is expected to remain closed to the public for up to two more years until security in Baghdad is better, according to director Amira Eidan. The U.S. and Iraq recently said they will open a conservation and historic preservation institute in Irbil in Iraq's north. That $14 million plan will also refurbish the National Museum.

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