Wednesday Wonders – The Great Ziggurat

Hi there! Welcome to the next post for my WonderLesch blog for the Wednesday Wonders of the World. Join me on a virtual trip through the finest views and experiences the world has to offer.

Today, we will be talking about a Wonder created during the Bronze age: reports state the building on this particular site started around 2050 – 2030 BC. This ancient city of Mesopotamia holds an underrated middle east Wonder and the most well known of its kind called Ziggurat of Ur, which was a suggestion by one of the readers of this blog. If you would like to see a post about your favorite place let me know, I love research and would love to learn and share your favorites.

The Ziggurat of Ur located in the now province of Dhi Qar in southern Iraq.

To understand what a Ziggurat is, I find it helpful to picture a pyramid, think of an Egyptian pyramid, like the great Pyramid of Giza with a flat top. Ziggurats have been also compared to the Mayan pyramids from Southern Mexico or Northern South America, but built thousands of years before the first Mayan pyramid was created. The pyramids found in the Middle East were used as tombs, where the rich and the powerful were buried, and also had religious connotations. Ziggurats on the other hand had a totally different use all together.

The Ziggurat of Ur’s top flat level, was thought to be the bedchamber for Nanna (the moon God), where priests would perform sacrafices and other rituals in its time. The Ziggurat of Ur went beyond rituals and became a city center for its people and life as a Mesopotamian. This flat-topped pyramid is a symbol of prosperity, bureaucracy and culture blending. It is estimated that Ur was the largest city in the world between 2030 BC and 1980 BC with approximately 65,000 people living there but, became uninhabited around 500 BC due to politics, wealth and weather to name a few. The ruins, covering almost 4,000 feet by 2,700 feet, were uncovered in the 1850 AD by William Loftus. The first excavations at the site began in the 1850’s led by John George Taylor. This excavation found the site to be the Ziggurat of Ur.

The bedchamber for Nanna (the moon god) on top of the Ziggurat of Ur, southern Iraq.
Courtesy of the Ali Air Base 2005

The remains of the Ziggurat of Ur have been identified to consist of three layers. The structure is primarily made of solid mass 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 that took place during the 6th century.  The the lowest level and the monumental staircase were rebuilt in the 1980’s under the orders of Saddam Hussein.

The Ziggurat of Ur was the recipient of war destruction and fall out during 1991 and received damage from small arms fire and the structure was shaken by explosions. Four bomb craters can be seen nearby and the walls of the Ziggurat of Ur are marred by bullet holes.

A safer travel alternative, safer as of the date of this posting, to experience the amazingness of the Ziggurat might be the Ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil located in the Khuzestan province of Iran. It is one of the few existing Ziggurats found outside of the former Mesopotamia. Its construction began around 1250 BC by King Untash-Napirisha and has yet to be completed since all building stopped after the king’s death. The structure once measured about 350 feet by 180 feet and has been placed on the UNSECO World Heritage List. Not as grand as the Ziggurat of Ur but, much better preserved example of the flat topped pyramids.

Zikkurat Choqa Zanbil, Iran

There are a number of other possibilities to see Ziggurats in person, but the others are not as imposing, and not as important when the civilizations that made them were blooming. As such, these just serve the role of another attraction in a touristic spot, and if you’re interested, maybe you can visit a beautiful city in the Middle East and research nearby Ziggurats, and maybe take a day to go and visit, since, as I have explained in this post, they are quite unique, and you can’t really find the history and culture that they have tied to them anywhere else.

Thank you for reading the post, I hope that you found it interesting to learn about a less known piece of world heritage, and for the few of you who might want to travel and see one of these in person, below are a couple guide books you can use to research. They can also be used for your virtual trip if traveling to that area is not on your to do list. Until next time!

– WonderLesch


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