Ziggurats were massive, multi-storied pyramid temples built in ancient Mesopotamian towns in western Iranian plateau. The word ‘Ziggurat’ means ‘to build on a raised area’. The Ziggurats were the part of the huge temple complex that included several other buildings as well. The ‘Ziggurats’ were considered as the ‘Abode of the Gods’ & were built in the form of terraced step pyramid with successively retreating floors or levels.
Ziggurats were the common form of temples for many rulers in Mesopotamia region & the kings from many dynasties such as the ‘Sumerians’, ‘Babylonians’, ‘Elamites’, ‘Akkadians’ & ‘Assyrians’ built various Ziggurats in their respective era to venerate the gods. The construction of enormous raised platforms that date from the fourth millennium BC laid the basic idea of the Ziggurats & in the third millennium BC, the earliest form of the Ziggurats was manifested. Ziggurats dating from the 6th century BC are now considered as the most recent realizations of the concept of Mesopotamian rising pyramid temples.
CONSTRUCTION & SIGNIFICANCE:
The Mesopotamian Ziggurats never served as the places of public worships or ceremonial places. On the other hand, they were considered as the abode of the gods & every city in Mesopotamia had its own patron god. The king of the city had the responsibility of building & maintaining the Ziggurats & they used to inscribe their names on the bricks of the structure. The priests held the ultimate place in the Sumerian society & only they were allowed to access the Ziggurat. Looking after the needs of the gods & performing various rituals to appease the divine spirit were the responsibilities of the priest.
Large mud-brick platforms constructed during the 4th millennium BC served as the basis for the construction of the massive Ziggurats. Latter rulers preferred to build the Ziggurats on top of these platforms. Initial Ziggurats were constructed in many cities of Sumerian reign & the custom was, later on, followed by the Babylonians & Assyrians.
The ‘Ziggurat’ consisted of an enormous rectangular, oval or square platform with a series of retreating platforms built one above the other in pyramidal formation with a flat place on top. The flat top used to host a temple or a shrine & access to the temple was possible through the series of ramps on any one side of Ziggurat supported by the steps leading to the summit or by a spiral ramp till the summit from the base. The core part of ‘Ziggurat’ was constructed using the sun-baked bricks, whereas, fired-bricks were used to shape up the façade. The exteriors of Ziggurats were adorned using different colors. The archeological evidences have underlined the astrological significance of the Ziggurats. The number of levels or platforms ranged from two to seven with a temple or shrine on top.
The Ziggurats, thus, had provided the shelter to the Mesopotamian gods on higher grounds than the houses of the common people of the city.
NOTABLE ZIGGURATS AROUND THE GLOBE:
The archeological discovery has found out nearly 32 Ziggurats from the ancient Mesopotamian terrain which is now the part of the Western Iranian plateau. Four of the Ziggurats are in Iran while rests are mostly in Iraq.
The ‘Sialk’ Ziggurat in Kashan, Iran is considered as the oldest identified Ziggurat dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, whereas, the Ziggurat in western Iran, named as ‘Choga Zanbil’ is tagged as one of the best preserved Ziggurat in the world.
The ‘White Temple’ of Uruk, located in ancient ‘Sumer’, is considered as the simplest form of the Ziggurat due to its pretty straightforward appearance- An elevated base housing the ‘White Temple’ on top of it, accessible via steps. This architecture was supposedly carried out with the intention of setting the temple closest to the heaven!
The ‘Mudruk’ Ziggurat, which is also called as ‘Etemenanki’ (meaning- ‘Tempe of the foundation of heaven & the earth’) of ancient Babylon was one of the biggest Ziggurat in Mesopotamia. Although, today, hardly anything can be found in its place, the historical accounts suggests that the structure was soaring some 92 meters high & featured seven colorful tiers, topped with a temple befitting the massive appearance of the Ziggurat.
Ziggurats experienced their golden era till the dawn of the Persian dynasty after which the older method of temple construction was replaced by the newer designs. The veteran Ziggurats then started deteriorating & the deliberate vandalizing by the raiders also played the key role in defacing these humongous architectures.
The elegant Ziggurats, then gradually lost their places from the historical accounts following the abandonment of several Mesopotamian cities. These ancient ‘residences of the gods’ came back into the picture after a long span of many centuries when they were extensively investigated & studied following their Biblical account & textual description by Herodotus!