The Great Ziggurat of Ur
Mesopotamia was one of the cradles of civilization 6000 years ago, located in the fertile valley
between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, it was the birthplace of current day society
and the first writing system.
Every important city in Mesopotamia had a marvel showing the magnificence of their civilization,
these marvels are known to us as Ziggurats.
My name is Kayleigh, today we are going to take a look at in my opinion the most beautiful
of all Mesopotamian Ziggurats, The Great Ziggurat of Ur.
Way back in the day around the birth of civilization 5800 year ago the coastal city of Ur was founded.
The city is now known as Tell el-Muqayyar and is located in the Modern day city of Nasiriya
in the Dhi Qar Governorate of southern Iraq.
The very first mention of Ur in written history was in the 26th century BCE, with its first
recorded king being Mesannepada.
Before the birth of civilization as we know it by the creation of the very first city
states the Sumerians worshipped their gods on top of mountains as they were mountain
The originally came from Mountainous and hilly terrain, during the Ubaid period they started
to settle on the flat plains of Mesopotamia.
As the Sumerian society evolved and created their first cities they found themselves at
a loss as to how to worship their gods as there were no mountains in the area.
The solution to this problem was the creation of artificial hills, which we now understand
to be Ziggurats.
A ziggurat is not like a pyramid as a pyramid holds chambers and passages inside, a ziggurat
is a solid mass and holds a place of worship on top.
But what even is a Ziggurat?
Well as I explained back in December in my Ziggurat of Uruk video, a Ziggurat is a raised
platform with four sloping sides, it somewhat looks like a chopped off pyramid.
The materials used to construct Ziggurats are mud bricks, this was done because stone
was rare in Mesopotamia so it wasnt used much as a construction material.
A Ziggurat was the visual focal point of a city and they had a symbolic meaning as well.
The top of the Ziggurat would house a temple, to honor the Gods and Goddesses, the temple
on the top wouldve risen above the fortification wall from quite a distance.
This is the main purpose of the Ziggurat, to get the Temple on top as close to the heavens
as they possibly could construct it.
Spotting the Ziggurat in the distance would make the visual connection to the Gods being
honored and their political authority would be recognized easier.
Since the Sumerians lived in a Theocratic society, the Ziggurats would be at the heart
of this political system, connecting heaven and earth.
This is more evident by the names the Sumerians would give these Temples and Ziggurats; The
House of the Mountain, The Link between Earth and Heaven, The Holy Hill and The House of
the Mountain of all Lands.
Weve learned in my deep dive about the Ziggurat of Uruk (which predates the Ziggurat
of Ur by hundreds of years) that the Mesopotamian cities had a Patron Deity.
In Uruk we learned that the God Anu was the Patron Deity which over time got replaced
by the Goddess Inanna.
Here in the City of Ur they had a different Patron Deity, the Moon God Nanna was the Protector
of this city, the City was even literally named; The abode of Nanna.
Around 2050 BCE construction on the Great Ziggurat of Ur started, and at the latest
it was completed at 1980 BCE.
Just like with the Anu Ziggurat of Uruk construction started on the bottom with the mud bricks
slowly making their way to the flat platform surface approximately 30 meters in height.
The base of the Ziggurat is 64 meters in length and 45 meters in width and the corners of
the base are oriented to the cardinal points of the compass.
The massive raised platform was encased with a burnt mud brick facing, the first stage
of the Ziggurat was 9.75 meters in height, the second stage was at 4 meters in height,
the third stage 2.50 meters, the fourth and last stage was 2.30 meters in height and on
top of the fourth stage there was a flat surface, on this platform stood a small Temple.
The Temple on this Ziggurat was a shrine to the Moon God Nanna.
It is said that King Ur-Nammu had ordered the construction of the Ziggurat during the
Third Dynasty of Ur, also known as the Neo-Sumerian Empire.
But its thought that under the rule of King Shulgi the Ziggurat was finished, Shulgi
then proclaimed himself to be a God in order to win the allegiance of nearby cities.
It was under King Shulgis 48 year long rule that the City of Ur became the Capital
of a State that Controlled most of Mesopotamia.
For a long time the Ziggurat had stood in all its glory, but we all know nothing truly
lasts forever, so around 600 BCE there was not much left besides the base.
The last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire King Nabonidus had come upon the ruins and
decided to rebuild the Ziggurat, but with nothing left to guide him he restored the
3 staged Ziggurat in 7 stages changing the original appearance.
Nabonidus was the Last King before the Fall of Babylon to the First Persian Empire under
Cyrus the Great.
Which means that the Great Ziggurat of Ur and the City of Ur who once were at the Height
of the Mesopotamian state were now slowly turning to ruins and eventually would be covered
by the desert sand.
The ziggurat is not the only great monument in the ancient city of Ur, although of course
it was the largest.
So lets take a look into the ancient city of Ur, which is sometimes referred to as Ur
Kasdim or Ur of the Chaldeans.
A long time ago Ur was a coastal city, near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian
Gulf with water levels 2.5 meters higher than in modern times.
Ur was thought to be surrounded by marshland, with no necessary use for irrigation, which
means the irrigation system that was discovered was most likely used for transportation.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of occupation before the founding of the city
of Ur during the Ubaid period somewhere between 6500 and 3800 BCE.
During excavations of the city in 1920 they discovered the earliest levels of occupation
under a sterile deposit of soil, back then this was interpreted by the archaeologists
as evidence for the Great Flood in the biblical book of Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Of course modern understanding of this is less grand, the South Mesopotamian plain was
regularly exposed to floods from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and of course heavy erosion
due to water and wind.
Of course these floods of the area may have contributed to the biblical Great Flood stories,
if your surroundings are flooded and its all youve ever known it might actually
seem that the world is enduring a worldwide Great Flood.
New settlers came into the area from the East that we now refer to as Sumerians and Ur was
founded approximately 5800 years ago in 3800 BCE, and the first written record as stated
previously was somewhere in 2600 BCE.
Mesannepada was listed as the First King for the First Dynasty of Ur on the Sumerian King
Mesannepada was also described as the King of Kish, another ancient Sumerian city and
he overtook the city of Uruk by overthrowing King Lugar-Kitun during his 80 year long Rule.
Around 3000 BCE the Akkadians gained control over the Sumerians and much of Mesopotamia
until their Empire fell in 2200 BCE.
Barbaric people from the Zagros Mountains called The Gutians then took over the North-east
of Mesopotamia, while the Assyrians assured their independence in the rest of the area.
Eventually the Third Dynasty was established when King Ur-Nammu came into power somewhere
around 2047 BCE.
Under his rule agriculture and irrigation were improved.
He brought with him a Code of Laws known as the Code of Ur-Nammu, this code is the oldest
known, dated by a document which was identified in Istanbul in 1952 and his code precedes
the Core of Hammurabi by 300 years.
After his death he became deified and he continued on as a hero figure, a piece of surviving
Sumerian Literature tells the tale of Ur-Nammus death and his journey to the underworld.
After Ur Nammus death his son King Shulgi reigned for approximately 48 years, he is
known as the Greatest King of the Third Dynasty of Ur.
He reformed the empire into a centralized bureaucratic state, he is thought to have
completed the Great Ziggurat of Ur and in his 23rd year of his rule he Deified himself
to strengthen his claim to power.
By the time of the rule of King Ur-Nammu in 2048 BCE the citys layout was apparently
divided into neighbourhoods, artisans lived in another quarter than the merchants.
There were open spaces for gatherings with wide and narrow streets, structures for city
and empire management, structures for water resources and flood control has been found
evident as well.
The materials used to build the houses in Ur was to no surprise mud bricks and mud plaster,
in some of the larger more important buildings the walls, roofs and floor were strengthened
with bitumen and reeds.
During archaeological discoveries in the past theyve found out that Ur was a Major Sumero-Akkadian
centre in Mesopotamia, the discovery of the Royal Tombs has confirmed the splendour of
the ancient city beyond a doubt.
The Royal Tombs date from approximately the 25th century BCE which falls in the Early
Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia.
Within these tombs theyve discovered an immense treasure of luxurious items made from
precious metals like gold and silver and semi-precious stones such as Lapis Lazuli and Carnelian.
They were procured from quite a distance all over the middle east, as far north as the
Black sea Region and as far south as the Arabian Peninsula.
This particular wealth was unparalleled up until then, its a testimony of Urs economic
importance in the area.
Archaeological studies in the region have discovered that Ur was a major port on the
Persian Gulf and therefore controlled much of the trade in Mesopotamia.
The city of Ur was surrounded by sloping walls of 8 meters in height that were approximately
25 meters wide, some places were bordered by a brick wall while in other places buildings
were partially integrated into the city wall.
On the western side of the city the fortifications of the wall were strengthened by the Euphrates
Between 2030 and 1980 BCE the city of Ur was estimated to have been the largest in the
world with a population of approximately 65.000.
The Ur Empire continued until it fell to the Elamites around 1940 BCE just like we have
seen happen with the city of Uruk in my video about the Anu Ziggurat of Uruk.
The city might have lost its political power after the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur,
but it never lost its important position providing access to the Persian Gulf which ensured the
city its ongoing importance during the 2nd millennium BCE.
Eventually the city became ruled by the first Dynasty of Babylon but after the fall of Hammurabis
short lived Babylonian Empire the native Akkadians ruled over Ur for 270 years until the Babylonians
reconquered it in the 16th century BCE.
After this the city came under sporadic rule of the Elamites, Middle Assyrian Empire and
From the end of the 7th century BCE the city was ruled by the Chaldean Dynasty of Babylon
with its most famous ruler Nebuchadnezzar II.
Under his rule the City of Ur saw new constructions which continued until the last Babylonian
King Nabonidus improved the Ziggurat.
Unfortunately the city began to decline around 530 BCE after Babylonia fell to the Persian
Achaemenid Empire and from around 500 BCE the city was no longer inhabited.
Many theories surround the abandoning of the city, possible reasons are thought to be drought
or the changing of the Euphrates and or Tigris river patterns.
The city is not necessarily known to the world for its Ziggurat but for a very different
reason, its a city mentioned in the Hebrew bible to have been the birthplace of Abraham,
the Patriarch of the Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Within the city is a structure which is 4000 years old and known as the house of Abraham,
it most likely served as an administrative center around the time Abraham would have
lived here before he left for Canaan according to the Bible.
There has been speculation of course if the city of Ur is the actual place the bible refers
to when it mentions Ur Kasdim, but it seems like Pope Francis Head of the Catholic church
believes it is.
In March 2021 he travelled to the city of Ur to condemn violent religious extremism
during a prayer service held in the city where he prayed alongside muslims, yazidis and Christians.
This is the first ever visit of a Pope from the Catholic Church to Iraq, which reinforces
the message of inter-religious tolerance in a country that is deeply divided by religion
"We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion," he told the congregation,
which included members of religious minorities persecuted under the Islamic State group's
three-year rule of much of northern Iraq.
The pope urged Iraqs Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities
and work together for peace and unity.
the greatest blasphemy was the act of hating our brothers and sisters.
Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: They are betrayals
of religion, he said.
We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion.
There is corruption, abuse of power, that is not the way.
At the same time, you need to think of justice, transparency, to strengthen certain values,
that is how credibility can grow so everyone, especially the young people, can have hope
for the future.
This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbour, he told the
Pietro Della Valle an Italian composer and author travelled through the holy land and
visited the City of Ur in 1625, during this visit he recorded the presence of ancient
bricks stamped with strange symbols cemented together with bitumen as well as inscribed
pieces of black marble that appeared to be seals.
None of the European archaeologists identified Tell El-Muqayyar as the ancient city of Ur
until Henry Rawlinson successfully deciphered bricks from the city that were brought to
England by William Loftus in 1849.
In 1853 and 1854 the city saw its first excavations on behalf of the British Museum with instructions
from the Foreign Office by John George Taylor the British Vice Consul at Basra.
Taylor is credited with the uncovering of the Great Ziggurat of Ur, in the 4 corners
of the Ziggurats platform he discovered clay cylinders bearing inscriptions of Nabonidus
the last King of Babylon.
He further excavated the area, unfortunately it was typical of the era and his excavations
destroyed much information and exposed the tell, which is a sort of mound structure.
The 4000 year old bricks and tile now laid loose, ready for construction but they wouldnt
be moved for the next 75 years as the British Museum suddenly decided to prioritize archaeological
research in Assyria.
After The British Museum redirected their attention to Assyria and Taylor left, the
site had many visiting travellers and almost all of them found ancient Babylonian inscribed
stones and other items just scattered around the surface so it was deemed easy to explore
since it was rich in ancient remains.
Of course no one knows how many of these remains were taken and are currently still unaccounted
for, I mean to be honest, if you inherited ancient Babylonian remains from a great grandfather
would you take that to a museum to give back?
Or would you keep it?
Since no one knows of its existence, would it hurt anybody?
Eventually in 1918 Reginald Campbell Thompson laid the groundworks for a short season of
excavations under the lead of Henry Reginald Holland Hall who worked for the British Museum
in 1919 to lay the groundworks for more extensive excavations in the future.
Thankfully this time it didnt take 75 years before excavations were being carried out,
the British museum and the University of Pennsylvania funded a 12 year long excavation campaign
which was led by archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley.
During this campaign the archaeologists have discovered 1850 burials, among these were
16 Royal Tombs which contained incredible artefacts and objects, among these artefacts
they found pieces of pottery, lyres, 5 probably complete games of Ur and golden jewellery.
One of these royal tombs held the Standard of Ur, which is an artefact from the 3rd millennium
BCE, its a wooden box measuring 49.53 centimetres long and 21.59 centimetres high.
Dating from the First Dynasty of Ur during the Early Dynastic Period approximately 4600
Its inlaid with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli, and one side of
the box depicts war and the other side depicts peace.
No one knows the purpose of this Artefact but what we do know is that it was found next
to the skeleton of a ritually sacrificed man in one of the largest of the royal tombs,
This particular tomb is thought to belong to King Ur-Pabilsag who died around 2550 BCE.
It was a unique find since almost everything from this tomb was looted once Sir.
Woolley arrived for excavations in 1927.
Only one of the 16 royal tombs was unlooted when the excavations took place.
This tomb Is believed to have been of a Queen, they discovered a cylinder seal inside with
the name bearing Queen Puabi, they did find 2 other seals in the tomb but both did not
In this tomb they discovered many human remains which were thought to have been buried with
the Queen in a form of human sacrifice.
Next to the Queen was a chest, underneath this chest they found a hole in the ground
which led to tomb PG-789 which is called the Kings Grave.
In this tomb they discovered the remains of 63 people equipped with copper helmets and
This is believed to be the kings personal army that were buried with him to escort the
King safely to the afterlife.
They discovered so many items in the royal tombs that the archaeologists at the end of
the 3rd excavation season were spending more time recording the objects than they were
digging for new objects.
The team excavated the soil underneath the royal cemetery as well, underneath a 3.5 meter
thick layer of clay they discovered pottery and other remains that showed the existence
of earlier habitation of the area, the pottery remains date from the Ubaid Period.
Eventually in 1934 Woolley and his team of archaeologists finished the excavations at
the Royal cemetery of Ur.
Near the Ziggurat the team discovered many buildings, they found the Temple E-Nun-Mah,
a palace for King Ur-Nammu named E-Dub-La-Mah, a residence for a high priestess called E-Gig-Par
and a temple building named E-Hur-Sag.
When the archaeologists were excavating certain parts of the Palace and temple complex they
discovered dozens of artefacts neatly arranged side by side who were dated to be centuries
They seemed to be museum pieces as they discovered labels nearby, making them realize they discovered
what is most likely the oldest Museum on earth.
These labels came in the form of cylinder drums and had 3 languages on them.
A fun thing to note about this team of archaeologists that were working at the site is that one
of them was Max Mallowan, now you might have never heard of him or maybe you have.
When the excavations were being carried out the word got out about an ancient city and
this attracted many visitors as you can imagine, one of these visitors was the Famous Writer
Agatha Christie, who you most likely will have heard about.
She met Max Mallowan on site in February 1930, he was 13 years younger than her and she married
Max only 7 months later in September 1930.
She travelled with Max to his archaeological expeditions and the long travels by train
made her write the famous novel published in 1934; Murder on the Orient Express.
Almost all treasures discovered at Ur have been divided to be displayed in the British
Museum and the Penn Museum, also known as the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology
For a long time the items owned by the Penn Museum toured in an exhibition through 8 museums
in the United States, this tour ended at the Detroit institute of Art in may 2011.
These items have been on display at the Penn Museum in the Iraqis Ancient Past exhibition
which opened to visitors in May 2011.
As you can imagine in a desert like area the excavated remains have almost all been sanded
over time once more, the only thing sticking out above the sand are the partially reconstructed
Ziggurat, the famous Royal tombs and the Abrahams House centre which is reconstructed as well.
Saddam Hussein had ordered the facade of the lowest level and monumental staircase of the
Ziggurat to be rebuilt in the 1980s.
The Ziggurat unfortunately suffered damage during the Gulf War in 1991 because Saddam
Hussein had cunningly placed his military base right next to the Ziggurat, incorporating
the structure in his military defence plan.
He even placed his MiG fighter Jets close to the Ziggurat because he was convinced the
US bombers would spare them in fear of destroying the Ancient structure.
The Ziggurat was damaged by explosions close to the structure that shook the structure
and it was hit many times by small arms fire.
You can still see 4 bomb craters near the Ziggurat and the walls of the structure have
been pierced by more than 400 bullet holes.
In 1999 tension ran high and Pope John Paul II was denied access to Ur by Saddam Hussein,
which is why the visit of Pope Francis was so important.
In the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Ziggurat survived the battle of Nasiriyah between the
Iraqi forces and the United States Army.
Although the Ziggurat and City of Ur sat on a wasteland on the edge of a war zone for
quite a long time, with the ruins of the ancient city completely abandoned.
This did make it possible for the US soldiers based on the Tallil Air Force Base near Nasiriyah
to travel easily to the ruins, walk around, take photos and videos.
Of course the Ziggurat had quite the gravitational pull on these soldiers and they would often
climb the stairs to the flat surface on top of the Ziggurat as you can see here.
It was impossible for the soldiers not to step on ancient sherds of pottery as the ground
is completely covered with it.
During this hectic period in their lives, filled with dread and uncertainty about their
lives and if they were able to make it to camp safely at night or if they were able
to make it back home once their deployment ended the visits to Ur were a breath of fresh
The soldiers were able to walk around freely to wander in the calm of the empty ruins and
enjoy a few rare moments of peace as an officer in charge at the time wrote down in an article.
Since 2008 the area has been under the supervision of curator Dief Mohssein Naiif al-Gizzy and
in May 2009 the United States Army returned the Ur site to the Iraqi authorities who now
hope to develop it as a tourist destination, which I personally hope they will do soon.
The Iraqi government opened the Ziggurat for visitors in 2009 with festivities attended
by the Kindergarten students from the Mumsuna school in Nasiriyah.
Since 2009 the Global Heritage Fund has been working to protect and preserve Ur against
erosion, neglect, inappropriate restoration, war and conflict.
Since 2013 the Conservation and Maintenance of the Archaeological site of Ur was established
by the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
and the institution for the Development Cooperation of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Theyve created a high resolution aerial map from more than 100 aerial photographs
as you can see here, I will leave a link to that in the comments down below.
The Great Ziggurat of Ur, an absolute incredible monument that has stood there in the desert
in silence as a witness to more than 4000 years of human conflict, and all we can wonder
is if it has seen it all or if there is more to come..
And with those last words you have reached the end of this video.
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