Essential Architecture-  Iraq

Ishtar Gate




Babylon (55 miles south of Baghdad)


7th–6th Centuries BC


Islamic Neo-Babylonian


Reconstruction Glazed Brick Total Height–47 Feet, Width-32 Feet


Palace complex gate
  Photo of the remains from the 1930s of the excavation site in Babylon, and reconstruction in Iraq.
  The reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and Babylon in 1932.
  Model of the main procession street (Aj-ibur-shapu) towards Ishtar Gate; the double structure is clearly recognisable.
The gate into Babylon and the royal processional way was decorated with hybrid creatures.

An artist's reconstruction, depicting a royal procession moving along Marduk's way, through the Ishtar gate, and turning into the courtyard of Nebuchadrezzar's palace which lies behind the lush growth of the famous hanging gardens. In the distance, the ziggurat of Marduk can be seen.

Babylon town plan- click to enlarge.

What impression the magnificent city of Babylon made upon the exiles can only be imagined. Nebuchadrezzar had made Babylon into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This great metropolis straddled the Euphrates and was surrounded by a moat and huge walls 85 feet thick with massive reinforcing towers. Eight gates led into the city, the most important being the double gate of Ishtar with a blue facade adorned with alternating rows of yellow and white bulls and dragons. Through the Ishtar gate a broad, paved, processional street known as "Marduk's Way" passed between high walls, past Nebuchadrezzar's palace and the famous "hanging gardens" to the ziggurat of Marduk, the national god. This tremendous brick structure named E-temen-an-ki, "the House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth," was 300 feet square at the base and rose in eight successive stages to a height of 300 feet. Temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses abounded. Beyond the city were lush orchards, groves and gardens, fed by an intricate canal system, from which supplies of fruits and vegetables were obtained. Domesticated animals, fish, wild fowl and game provided a varied diet. From east and west, north and south, came caravans with goods for trade and barter. In festal seasons, sacred statuary from shrines in nearby cities was brought to Babylon by boat and land vehicles. Truly Babylon was, as her residents believed, at the "center" of the world. The magnificent splendor of the city must have impressed the Jews, and as we shall see, there is some evidence that Babylonian religious concepts also made an impression on the exiles.

A royal procession. Water color by W. Anger (Pergamon Museum, Berlin;)

In front: the Procession Street;
center: the Ištar Gate;
on the horizon: the Etemenanki Tower of Babel.
Neo-Babylonian Period

(626–539 bc). The Babylonians, in coalition with the Medes and Scythians, defeated the Assyrians in 612 bc and sacked Nimrud and Nineveh. They did not establish a new style or iconography. Boundary stones depict old presentation scenes or the images of kings with symbols of the gods. Neo-Babylonian creativity manifested itself architecturally at Babylon, the capital. This huge city, destroyed (689 bc) by the Assyrian Sennacherib, was restored by Nabopolassar (r. 626–605 bc) and his son Nebuchadnezzar II. Divided by the Euphrates, it took 88 years to build and was surrounded by outer and inner walls. Its central feature was Esagila, the temple of Marduk, with its associated seven-story ziggurat Etemenanki, popularly known later as the Tower of Babel. The ziggurat reached 91 m (300 ft) in height and had at the top a temple (a shrine) built of sun-dried bricks and faced with baked bricks. From the temple of Marduk northward passed the processional way, its wall decorated with enamelled lions. Passing through the Ishtar Gate, it led to a small temple outside the city, where ceremonies for the New Year Festival were held. West of the Ishtar Gate were two palace complexes; east of the processional way lay, since the times of Hammurabi, a residential area. Like its famous Hanging Gardens, one of the SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD, (q.v.), at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II little of the city remains. The Ishtar Gate (c. 575 bc) is one of the few surviving structures. The glazed-brick facade of the gate and the processional way that led up to it were excavated by German archaeologists and taken to Berlin, where the monument was reconstructed. The complex, some 30 m (about 100 ft) long, is on display in the city’s Vorderasiatische Museum. On the site of ancient Babylon, restoration of an earlier version of the Ishtar Gate, the processional way, and the palace complex, all built of unglazed brick, has been undertaken by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.

Nabonidus (r. 556–539 bc), the last Babylonian king, rebuilt the old Sumerian capital of Ur, including the ziggurat of Nanna, rival to the ziggurat Etemenanki at Babylon. It survived well and its facing of brick has recently been restored.

In 539 bc the Neo-Babylonian kingdom fell to the Persian Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. Mesopotamia became part of the Persian Empire, and a royal palace was built at Babylon, which was made one of the empire’s administrative capitals. Among the remains from Babylon of the time of Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the Persian empire, is a theater he built at the site known now as Humra. The brilliance of Babylon was ended about 250 bc when the inhabitants of Babylon moved to Seleucia, built by Alexander’s successors.
The Ishtar Gate at Babylon
Dedicator: Nebuchadnezzar II
Language: Akkadian
Date of Excavation: 1899-1914
Staatliche Museen , Berlin
Dept. of the Near East

"Is this not Babylon that I have built…" –Daniel 4:30

The Ishtar Gate, one of the eight gates of the inner city of Babylon, was built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604- 562 BC). Only the foundations of the gate were found, going down some 45 feet, with molded, unglazed figures. The gateway has been reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, from the glazed bricks found, so its original height is different in size. Reconstructed height is 47 feet.

It was one of the eight gates of the inner city of Babylon. It was built in about 575 BC, the eighth fortified gate in the city. It is one of the most impressive monuments rediscovered in the ancient Near East. The Ishtar gate was decorated with glazed brick reliefs, in tiers, of dragons and young bulls. The gate itself was a double one, and on its south side was a vast antechamber. Through the gatehouse ran a stone-and brick-paved avenue, the so-called Processional Way, which has been traced over a length of more than half a mile.

King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon dedicated the great Ishtar Gate to the goddess Ishtar. It was the main entrance into Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar II performed elaborate building projects in Babylon around 604-562 BC. His goal was to beautify his capital. He restored the temple of Marduk, the chief god, and also built himself a magnificent palace with the famous Hanging Gardens, which was reported by the Greek historian Herodotus to have been one of the wonders of the world.

The Bible records that it was Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed Jerusalem, brought the kingdom of Judah to an end, and carried off the Jews into exile. The Ishtar Gate was the starting point for processions. The Babylonians would assemble in front of it and march through the triumphal arch and proceed along the Sacred Way to the 7-story Ziggurat, which was crowned near the temple of Marduk.

The gateway was completely covered with beautifully colored glazed bricks. Its reliefs of dragons and bulls symbolized the gods Marduk and Adad. Enameled tiles of glorious blue surrounded the brightly colored yellow and brown beasts. In front of the gateway outside the city was a road with walls decorated with reliefs of lions and glazed yellow tiles. The Ishtar gate was reconstructed in Berlin out of material excavated by Robert Koldeway.

The Dedicatory Inscription on the Ishtar Gate reads:

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nabu, of prudent counsel, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor, who always takes to heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the firstborn son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon.

Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower. Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder

I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Markduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.