Definitions

ziggurat

ziggurat

[zig-oo-rat]
ziggurat, form of temple common to the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The earliest examples date from the end of the 3d millenium B.C., the latest from the 6th cent. B.C. The ziggurat was a pyramidal structure, built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, with a shrine at the summit. The core of the ziggurat was of sun-baked bricks, and the facings were of fired bricks, often glazed in different colors, which are thought to have had cosmological significance. Access to the summit shrine was provided by a series of ramps on one side or by a continuous spiral ramp from base to summit. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven. Notable examples are the ruins at Ur and Khorsabad in Mesopotamia. Similar structures were built by the Mayan people of Central America.

Pyramidal, stepped temple tower characteristic of the major cities of Mesopotamia between 2200 and 500 BC. It was built with a core of mud brick and an exterior covered with baked brick. It had no internal chambers and was usually square or rectangular. Some 25 ziggurats are known, located in Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. The best-preserved ziggurat is at Ur, and the largest is at Elam. The legendary Tower of Babel has been associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon.

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A ziggurat (Akkadian ziqqurrat, D-stem of zaqāru "to build on a raised area") was a temple tower of the ancient Mesopotamian valley and Iran, having the form of a terraced pyramid of successively receding stories or levels. Some modern buildings with a step pyramid shape have also been termed ziggurats.

Description

Ziggurats

Ziggurats were important to the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia as monuments to local religions. The earliest examples of the ziggurat were simple raised platforms that date from the Ubaid period during the fourth millennium BC, and the latest date from the 6th century BC. The top of the ziggurat was flat, unlike many pyramids. The step pyramid style began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period. Built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the ziggurat was a pyramidal structure. Sun-baked bricks made up the core of the ziggurat with facings of fired bricks on the outside. The facings were often glazed in different colors and may have had astrological significance. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven, with a shrine or temple at the summit. Access to the shrine was provided by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit. Notable examples of this structure include the Great Ziggurat of Ur and Khorsabad in Mesopotamia.

The ziggurats had no internal chambers. They were almost always square or rectangular, where one side was typically more than 170 feet (50 meters) long.

The Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places for public worship or ceremonies. They were believed to be dwelling places for the gods. Through the ziggurat, the gods could be close to mankind, and each city had its own patron god. Only priests were permitted on the ziggurat or in the rooms at its base, and it was their responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs. The priests were very powerful members of Sumerian society. There are 32 ziggurats known at, and near, Mesopotamia. Twenty-eight of them are in Iraq, and four of them are in Iran. The most recent to be discovered was Sialk, in central Iran.

One of the best-preserved ziggurats is Choqa Zanbil in western Iran. The Sialk ziggurat, in Kashan, Iran, is the oldest known ziggurat, dating to the early 3rd millennium BC. Ziggurat designs ranged from simple bases upon which a temple sat, to marvels of mathematics and construction which spanned several terraced stories and were topped with a temple.

An example of a simple ziggurat is the White Temple of Uruk, in ancient Sumer. The ziggurat itself is the base on which the White Temple is set. Its purpose is to get the temple closer to the heavens, and provide access from the ground to it via steps. The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth. In fact, the ziggurat at Babylon was known as Etemenankia or "House of the Platform between Heaven and Earth".

An example of an extensive and massive ziggurat is the Marduk ziggurat, or Etemenanki, of ancient Babylon. Unfortunately, not much of even the base is left of this massive structure, yet archeological findings and historical accounts put this tower at seven multicolored tiers, topped with a temple of exquisite proportions. The temple is thought to have been painted and maintained an indigo color, matching the tops of the tiers. It is known that there were three staircases leading to the temple, two of which (side flanked) were thought to have only ascended half the ziggurat's height.

Etemenanki, the name for the structure, is Sumerian and means "The Foundation of Heaven and Earth". Most likely built by Hammurabi, the ziggurat's core was found to have contained the remains of earlier ziggurats and structures. The final stage consisted of a 15-meter hardened brick encasement constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar.

Interpretation and significance

According to Herodotus, at the top of each ziggurat was a shrine, although none of these shrines has survived. One practical function of the ziggurats was a high place on which the priests could escape rising water that annually inundated lowlands and occasionally flooded for hundreds of miles, as for example the 1967 flood. Another practical function of the ziggurat was for security. Since the shrine was accessible only by way of three stairways, a small number of guards could prevent non-priests from spying on the rituals at the shrine on top of the ziggurat. These rituals probably included cooking of sacrificial food and burning of carcasses of sacrificial animals. The height of the ziggurat allowed the smoke to blow away without polluting city buildings. Each ziggurat was part of a temple complex that included a courtyard, storage rooms, bathrooms, and living quarters, around which a city was built.

Modern buildings resembling ziggurats

The ziggurat style of architecture continues to be used and copied today in many places of the world.

Examples include:

Notes

References

  • T. Busink, "L´origine et évolution de la ziggurat babylonienne". Jaarbericht van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap Ex Oriente Lux 21 (1970), 91-141.
  • R. Chadwick, "Calendars, Ziggurats, and the Stars". The Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies Bulletin (Toronto) 24 (Nov. 1992), 7-24.
  • R.G. Killick, "Ziggurat". The Dictionary of Art (ed. J. Turner, New York & London: Macmillan), vol. 33, 675-676.
  • H.J. Lenzen, Die Entwicklung der Zikurrat von ihren Anfängen bis zur Zeit der III. Dynastie von Ur (Leipzig 1942).
  • M. Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (New York 1990), 104-107.
  • E.C. Stone, "Ziggurat". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (ed. E.M. Meyers, New York & Oxford 1997), vol. 5, 390-391.
  • J.A. Black & A. Green, "Ziggurat". Dictionary of the Ancient Near East (eds. P. Bienkowski & A. Millard, London: British Museum), 327-328.
  • Harriet Crawford, Sumer and the Sumerians, Cambridge University Press, (New York 1993), ISBN 0-521-38850-3.
  • A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, University of Chicago Press, (Chicago 1977), ISBN 0-226-63187-7.
  • Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black, Larry S. Krieger, Phillip C. Naylor, Dahia Ibo Shabaka, World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell.

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