DigitalGlobe is a company that will sell you extremely detailed satellite images (they claim 60 cm resolution) of anywhere in the world. To prove they’ve got the goods, they have a nifty gallery on their website that features, among the various famous touristic locations, some photos of North Korea and Iraq. Here is a shot of downtown Baghdad from last year (use this map to get your bearings). No doubt it will soon look very different. This is Saddam’s Baghdad palace (there are pictures of at least nine other palaces) and if you look closely you can see him swimming laps in his pool. Well, okay, I bet you could if he were swimming laps.
One of the most arresting images I came across was this one of Mecca during the Hajj. Right at the center of the image you can see thousands of pilgrims performing their seven counterclockwise turns around the Kabah. It’s a fascinating peek into another world. I can’t decide if images like this make these places seem more real or more exotic. Now, instead of saying “I wonder what Baghdad is like?” I am more likely to say “I wonder what it’s like right there where that bridge over the Tigris river enters Baghdad university?” Either way I wonder.