The mysteries of the ancient ziggurats
The mysteries of the ancient ziggurats

At first, the ziggurats were built in two tiers, then the number of levels increased. For example, in Babylon, the structure consisted of 7 tiers. The temple center was supposed to aspire to the sky, closer to the gods. They were built from clay bricks; fired bricks were used for the outer cladding.

The terraces were painted in different colors and connected by stairs. High brick platforms were supposed to ensure the safety of the ziggurats during floods. Temples were divided into "upper" and "lower". The lower one was intended for rituals, and the upper one was believed to serve as a shelter for a deity. The sanctuary usually housed a bed.

For a long time it was believed that priests rose here to watch the movement of the stars. In addition, it was assumed that sacred relics were kept here.

The ziggurat in Ur

The ziggurat in Ur. Source:

The most famous temple complex was the Etemenniguru in Ur. Ur is one of the most ancient cities of Mesopotamia, founded in the IV millennium BC (the city was located on the territory of modern Iraq). The construction here was large-scale - luxurious palaces, squares, temples. Ur was supposed to reflect the greatness of the Sumerian civilization.

Ziggurat Etemenniguru was built around 2047 BC. e. It was erected in honor of the lunar deity. The height of the building was about 20 meters, below there were platforms with three floors. The height of the first tier is about 15 meters. You could go upstairs using one of three stairs.

Trees grew on the terraces, therefore drainage structures were also provided. In the first half of the 20th century, the ziggurat was investigated by the famous archaeologist Charles Leonard Woolley. He has directed excavations at Ur since 1922. In addition to the ziggurat, the expedition discovered the royal tombs and the Ursky standard - decorative panels depicting scenes of peaceful life and war.

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Ur standard. Source:

Woolley talks in detail about the excavations in the book "Ur Khaldeev": "In 1930-1933. We worked in the area around the ziggurat, trying to determine what historical events took place here before Urnamu, ruler of the third dynasty of Ur, built this magnificent structure, the ruins of which still dominate the surrounding area.

Since we had to spare the ancient monument and the buildings adjacent to it, the study of the underlying layers was extremely difficult.

True, in the end we still managed to establish a plan for two successive extensions of the early dynastic period, but at the same time we had such a limited space that we rarely managed to penetrate deep into the ancient layers. However, the cut made at the western corner of the ziggurat terrace provided us with the necessary information.

Beneath it was a long wall, partly cut off by an ancient foundation. This steeply sloping structure clearly served as a retaining wall for the terrace. It is made of small adobe bricks typical of the Uruk period - such bricks were found in Warka. But on the outside, the wall is reinforced with an additional row of bricks of a different type, similar to the bricks of the Jemdet Nasr period from the ruins of the houses of our large foundation pit.

Behind the wall, we found a floor of raw brick, dotted with thousands of small cones of fired clay. Sharpened on one side and blunt on the other, these pencil-like cones are, on average, about nine centimeters long and about one and a half centimeters in diameter. They are sculpted from whitish yellow clay. The blunt ends of some of the cones are covered with red or black paint."

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Ziggurat in Iran. Source:

The ziggurat of Etemenanki was located in Babylon - perhaps this complex was the prototype of the Tower of Babel. The name of the grandiose building is translated as "House of the founding of heaven and earth." The height of the tower reached 90 meters. The ziggurat was rebuilt several times. The main staircase was 9 meters wide.

The building was crowned with a sanctuary with gold furniture. Herodotus wrote about Etemenanki: “In the uppermost tower there is a large temple, and in the temple a large bed is richly appointed, and next to it is a golden table. No one spends the night there, except for the woman of this country, appointed by God himself."

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A statuette of a worshiper, an example of Sumerian art. Source:

Another ziggurat is located in the Dur-Untash temple complex in Iran, built in the 13th century BC. The complex was discovered by accident while searching for oil fields. The height of the ziggurat reached 52 meters. It was built "outside the box" - the stairs were internal.

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Inscriptions in the Dur-Untash complex. Source:

Dur Untash in Iran was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

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