Paralleling the pyramids in Egypt were the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia (meaning between two rivers, the Tigress and Euphrates) began making these structures around roughly 2000 BC. They were made of bricks that they produced on the building’s work site. There were sun-dried bricks to make up the solid inside of the ziggurat, and there were kiln fired bricks that made up the structures facade. Some of the ziggurats were built on top of older ones.
Like Egyptian pyramids, the ziggurat was believed to be a kind of gateway between heaven and earth, but unlike the pyramids, the ziggurats where not tombs for kings. Rather they were believed to be the earthly homes of gods. Egyptians built their massive structures outside of major populated areas. But the ziggurats were in prominent areas. Cities had their own patron god or goddess (some places even had two ziggurats, one for a god of both sexes) and priests were the only ones allowed into these temples.
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 inside the ziggurat and it was their responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs. As a result the priests were very powerful members of Sumerian society.
There are 32 known ziggurats near Mesopotamia. Four of them are in Iran, and the rest are mostly in Iraq. The most recent to be discovered was Sialk, in central Iran. One of the best preserved ziggurats is Choqa Zanbil in western Iran, which has survived despite the devastating eight year Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s in which many archeological sites were destroyed.
The Sialk, in Kashan, Iran, is the oldest known zigurrat, dating to the early 3rd millennium BCE. Constructed around 2100 BC the ziggurat of Ur had the appearance of a massive stepped pyramid made out of sun-dried mud-brick. Built by Ur-Nammu it was one of the earliest of the Mesopotamian ziggurats.
The most famous ziggurat is, of course, the “tower of Babel” mentioned in the Biblical book Genesis: a description of the Etemenanki of Babylon. According to the Babylonian creation epic Enûma êlis the god Marduk defended the other gods against the diabolical monster Tiamat.
After he had killed her, he brought order to the cosmos, built the Esagila sanctuary, which was the center of the new world, and created humankind. The Etemenanki was next to the Esagila, and this means that the temple tower was erected at the center of the world, as the axis of the universe. Here, a straight line connected earth and heaven.
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Ancient Mesopotamian Pyramids called Ziggurats