Sumerian Architecture: Ziggurat of Ur

Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art with Alessandro

We are in the second episode of the Sumerian art, so if you missed the first post here the link, but remember to subscribe to stay updated. Also, whenever you see a blue word, it means that you it is linked to the glossary of the website.

Sumerians were a very ancient and advanced population and they left amazing artifacts and some buildings like the one we are going to discover together: The Ziggurat (or Great Ziggurat) of Ur.

Ziggurat of Ur - Sumerian Architecture
ARTIST: Unknown
NAME Ziggurat of Ur
YEAR 21st century BC
TYPE Architecture
DIMENSIONS 30m (98ft) high, 64m (210ft) long, 45m (148ft) wide
MATERIAL Mud-bricks

First of all what’s a ziggurat? As you can see it is a massive structure built in ancient Mesopotamia with the form of a terraced compound of successively receding stories or levels. It recalls the Egyptian mastabas.

And this one here is one of the oldest since it has been made around 21st century BC in the city of Ur near Nasiriyah, in present-day Iraq.

The main structure actually had crumbled to ruins by the 6th century BC of the Neo-Babylonian period and the remains were rediscovered by William Loftus just in 1850.

Discovery of the Ziggurat of Ur - sketch

This sketch helps to understand that it’s conditions were not the best. So in the 1980s, the remains were encased by a partial reconstruction of the façade and the monumental staircase based on a 1939 model by the archeologist Leonard Woolley.

How was the Ziggurat of Ur?

And the staircase is for sure what catches our attention the most: the dimensions are impressive since the top was probably about 30 m (98 ft) in height while the base is 64 m (210 ft) in length and 45 m (148 ft) in width. The height is actually speculative, as only the foundations of the Sumerian ziggurat have survived.

What we know for sure is that at the top of the ziggurat there was a temple dedicated to the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur and, on the lower levels, there were other rooms, but only priests were allowed on the structure.

Ziggurat of Ur - 3D reconstruction
Ziggurat of Ur - 3D reconstruction

The Complex

However, it seems that, even if the main purpose was religious, the building have been used also as shelter during floods.

The building was a piece in a temple complex that served as an administrative center for the city. What it’s surprising is that it was not built of stone, but of sun-baked mud-bricks with facings of fired bricks on the outside.

Complex of the Ziggurat of Ur - 3D reconstruction
Complex of the Ziggurat of Ur - 3D reconstruction

That means millions and millions of bricks and we can just imagine the final effect since the facings were probably glazed in different colors.

I hope you enjoyed the post, in the next episode we’ll learn more about some important artifacts, so stay curious and see you soon!

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