Visiting the Round City of Baghdad

After four months of work by 28 middle school students and myself, we have our first world of the new school year to share. It was a great deal of work and took some fine tuning to get it to a finished state, but I am immensely proud of our accomplishment. We start a new history framework in California this year and, as a focus it has multiple “sites of encounter” that we are to visit with our students to deconstruct how and why they are historically significant. I chose 8th century Baghdad as our first project and would like to share it with you now.

Round Baghdad was designed for the Caliph, al-Mansur, who founded the city in 763. The circular design was intended to support a series of ringed administrative complexes, but it quickly became filled with common citizens. It stood for approximately two centuries. During this “Golden Age” of Islam, Baghdad was the capital of the Islamic Empire. It was a stop on the Silk Road, contained numerous academic focused institutions known as houses of wisdom and was tolerant of all religions and knowledge seekers. It was, by all accounts, a cultural center.

Round cities had been built before and Baghdad was stylized after a city in the Sassanian Empire. Within its walls visitors would find religious scholars, astronomers, poets, architects and mathematicians, merchants, musicians, philosophers and historians. It became widely known as the City of Peace. Situated next to the Tigris River, water was abundant and fertile farmland surrounded the city. As the city filled, more residents built up communities surrounding the great walls.

I intend to use this world to embed content that relates to our studies of historical Islam, Persia and the Middle East, and the Silk Road. I will use NPCs and create multiple quests for students to follow where they will encounter artifacts, ancient books on science, history, and philosophy, and build up the expanding city surrounding the walls. Here is a link to the lesson for you to use in your classroom as well.

I am fortunate to teach an elective period at Chalone Peaks Middle School where I’ve put together a “student build team” that includes mostly beginner to intermediate Minecraft builders. Over the course of the semester we learn how to build collaboratively and creatively within time constraints.

For this project, students worked individually and in teams to recreate buildings and other structures which we then merged onto the final map. Details were added for more authenticity. We built it to a 1:2 scale based on primary source documents. Little exists of this historic Baghdad today, but we feel that we have faithfully reproduced it in Minecraft and we look forward to seeing what other educators and students do with it.

For more images related to the project, please visit this link.


John Miller (@johnmillerEDU) is a middle school teacher in King City, California with interests including astronomy, anthropology, and world history. He is a Global Minecraft Mentor, co-author of the Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids and Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids (Quarry Books), and contributing author of Minecraft in the Classroom by Peachpit Press. He spends his free time rock climbing and traveling the world with my wife Audrey, making time to blog regularly about his adventures using Minecraft in the classroom to teach world history and literacy.