Essential Architecture-  Iraq

Ziggurat of Ur




Dhi Qar Province


Made on the command of Ur-Nammu in somewhere between the years 2113-2096 B.C.


Ziggurats are stepped temple towers, built as religious structures in the major cities of Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) from circa 2200-500BC. There are about 25 ziggurats known. They are spread throughout the ancient lands of Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria. The largest ziggurat is at Chogha Zanbil in Elam.


A ziggurat had a core of mud brick and an exterior of baked brick. It had no internal chambers (though is was sometimes built over other, more ancient structures) and was usually square or rectangular. An exterior triple stairway or a spiral ramp led to the top of the ziggurat. The terraces were often adorned with trees and shrubs, and this is probably the origin of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Most ziggurats were about 170ft. square, or 125x170ft. (40x50metres) at the base. It is 210 by 150 feetwith the corners pointing towards the compass directions.


Temple. It is the largest stepped pyramid left standing from the Sumerians.
  The Ziggurat is thought to be the home of the Moon God Nanna. At the top of the structure there is a shrine were woman each night would stay with the god.
As the living place of a god only high priest could go to this holy temple, but the place is actually just the dwelling place of the god. Not like a church where people go to worship.
The ziggurat was probably built on the remains of another ziggurat from the first dynasty of Ur, as to establish the third dynasty of Ur.
The clay bricks forming the ziggurat are colored in a way to represent the zones of heaven.
Even though there used to be many Ziggurats spread around Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat of Ur is the one that is most preserved. And even though it was well preserved it had to be partially reconstructed by the Iraq government in the 1960s. But the thing that makes the Ziggurat of Ur the most famous is the references to it in the books of the bible: Genesis and Herodotus.
  The Ziggurat at Ur, looking across the excavated remains of the royal tombs
  U.S. Soldiers climb the steps of the ziggurat in 2010
  Original state (last century) before recladding with bricks.
The remains of the ziggurat consist of a three-layered solid mass of mud brick faced with burnt bricks set in bitumen. The lowest layer corresponds to the original construction of Ur-Nammu, while the two upper layers are part of the Neo-Babylonian restorations. The façade of the lowest level and the monumental staircase were rebuilt under the orders of Saddam Hussein.
The Ziggurat of Ur (sometimes called the "Great Ziggurat of Ur"; Sumerian E-temen-nigur) meaning "house whose foundation creates terror") is a Neo-Sumerian ziggurat in what was the city of Ur near Nasiriyah, in present-day Dhi Qar Province, Iraq. The structure was built during the Early Bronze Age (21st century BC), but had crumbled to ruins by the 6th century BC of the Neo-Babylonian period when it was restored by King Nabonidus.

Its remains were excavated in the 1920s and 1930s by Sir Leonard Woolley. Under Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, they were encased by a partial reconstruction of the façade and the monumental staircase. The ziggurat of Ur is the best-preserved of those known from Iran and Iraq, besides the ziggurat of Dur Untash (Chogha Zanbil).[citation needed] It is one of three well preserved structures of the Neo-Sumerian city of Ur, along with the Royal Mausolea and the Palace of Ur-Nammu (the E-hursag).

Sumerian ziggurat

The ziggurat was built by King Ur-Nammu who dedicated the great ziggurat of Ur in honour of Nanna/Sîn, in approximately the 21st century BC (short chronology) during the Third Dynasty of Ur. The massive step pyramid measured 210 feet (64m) in length, 150 feet (46m) in width and over 100 feet (30m) in height. The height is speculative, as only the foundations of the Sumerian ziggurat have survived.

The ziggurat was a piece in a temple complex that served as an administrative center for the city, and which was a shrine of the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur.

The construction of the ziggurat was finished in the 21st century BC by King Shulgi, who, in order to win the allegiance of cities, proclaimed himself a god. During his 48-year reign, the city of Ur grew to be the capital of a state controlling much of Mesopotamia.

Neo-Babylonian restoration

King Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in the 6th century BC, after "finding little left but the last stage and nothing to guide him as to the monument's original appearance", had it restored in seven stages rather than three.

Excavation and preservation

The remains of the ziggurat were first described by William Kennett Loftus in the early 19th century. The first excavations at the site were conducted by John George Taylor in the 1850s, leading to the identification of the site as Ur. After World War I, preliminary excavations were performed by Reginald Campbell Thomson and Henry Hall. The site was extensively excavated in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Woolley by appointment of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum in the period of 1922 to 1934.

The remains of the ziggurat consist of a three-layered solid mass of mud brick faced with burnt bricks set in bitumen. The lowest layer corresponds to the original construction of Ur-Nammu, while the two upper layers are part of the Neo-Babylonian restorations. The façade of the lowest level and the monumental staircase were rebuilt under the orders of Saddam Hussein.

The ziggurat was damaged in the First Gulf War in 1991 by small arms fire and the structure was shaken by explosions. Four bomb craters can be seen nearby and the walls of the ziggurat are marred by over 400 bullet holes.

The site is currently under the supervision of Curator Dief Mohssein Naiif al-Gizzy.

Sumeria, the "Civilized Land"
Sumerian Ziggurat at Ur

The Sumerian Ziggurat at Ur During Excavations

Much of Iraq and Syria is a vast flat plain of dried and cracked mud, brown and desolate save for where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers snake through it.

A visitor to this country, which the Greeks called "the Land Between the Rivers," or Mesopotamia, will search in vain for anything like the monumental wreckage of pharaonic Egypt or the elegant relics of the Greeks. This was the cradle of civilization, where farming and writing first developed, where villages first grew into cities, cities into kingdoms, and kingdoms into empires; yet most of what was built here has long since crumbled into ruin, leaving little but foundations for archaeologists to puzzle over. But there is one notable exception: the Sumerian Ziggurat at Ur.

The Sumerians called themselves Sag-gi-ga, which meant "the Black-headed Ones" and their country Ken-gi-r, "the Civilized Land." By 2000 BC Sumerians living in cities such as Ur and Uruk in southern Iraq had developed paved roads, the arch and vault, writing, schools, epic literature, law codes, banking, and even joint-stock corporations. All this occurred two thousand years before Cleopatra or Julius Caesar.
Construction of the Ziggurat

"You can have a lord, you can have a King, but the man to fear is the tax collector!"
—Sumerian proverb

The Ziggurat at Ur, a massive stepped pyramid about 210 by 150 feet in size, is the most well-preserved monument from the remote age of the Sumerians. It consists of a series of successively smaller platforms which rose to a height of about 64 feet, and was constructed with a solid core of mud-brick covered by a thick skin of burnt-brick to protect it from the elements. Its corners are oriented to the compass points, and like the Parthenon, its walls slope slightly inwards, giving an impression of solidity.

The ziggurat was part of a temple complex that served as an administrative center for the city, and it was also thought to be the place on earth where the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur, had chosen to dwell. Nanna was depicted as a wise and unfathomable old man with a flowing beard and four horns, and a single small shrine to the god was placed upon the ziggurat's summit. This was occupied each night by only one person, chosen by the priests from among everyone in the city. A kitchen, likely used to prepare food for the god, was located at the base of one of the ziggurat's side stairways.

The King who Proclaimed Himself a God

Construction of the ziggurat was completed in the 21st century BC by King Shulgi, during whose 48-year reign the city of Ur grew to be the capital of an empire controlling much of Mesopotamia. To win the allegiance of the many formerly independent cities he controlled, Shulgi proclaimed himself a god and became a great patron of the arts. He had his poets and scribes publicize all sorts of stories about his prowess: he had complete mastery of every weapon of war, could capture gazelles on the run, slay lions unaided, and play every known musical instrument. The King himself claimed that he once ran 200 miles during fierce hailstorms—which he may have done.

Shulgi also boasted that he was one of the few kings who had gone to school to become a scribe. The Sumerian method of writing, known as cuneiform, consisted of complex wedge-shaped symbols impressed on clay tablets. At the schools that taught this difficult skill, students also learned how to debate in public and practiced the refined art of insulting opponents before refuting their arguments. "He is spawn of a dog, seed of a wolf, a helpless hyena's whelp, and an addlepated mountain monkey whose reasoning is nonsensical!" begins one such preamble. We can only guess whether Shulgi's fellow students dared ridicule their King in this way.
Fate of the Ziggurat

After Shulgi's time the fortunes of Ur declined. His sons could not hold on to the empire they inherited, and their city was soon sacked by the Elamites. Ur was then ruled by a succession of foreign kings until the 4th century BC, when the Euphrates river changed its course and the city, lacking irrigation, was abandoned. For the next two thousand years, until 19th-century archaeologists discovered its remains, all knowledge of "the Civilized Land" was completely erased from the memory of mankind...