Ziggurat of Ur: World Oldest Standing Monument and the Royal Tomb of Ur

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The world oldest standing monument has 4000 years old. It was built around 2100 BC and it is older than the pyramid

World Oldest Standing Monument

Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers is the cradle of human civilization. Euphrates and Tigris flowed smoothly five thousand years ago. One of the massive heritages left by the Sumerians is the Ziggurat of Ur. It was located in the Dhi Qar Province in present day Iraq and was built around 2100 BC. Today, after four thousand years later, it is still standing in the middle of the desert. This building is older than The Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

The complete construction of the ziggurat

The Ziggurat of Ur is the oldest standing monument on earth. It was built by Ur-Nammu in the 3rd dynasty of Ur. The ziggurat of Ur is a temple complex to the god of Nanna, the moon god and the patron deity of city Ur. Nanna is depicted as a wise man with four horns and long beards. He lived in the shrine on the top of the ziggurat. Inside the shrine, there is a bedchamber where the choosen lady to be the god’s companion will be occupied. On the northwestern part of the ziggurat, the kitchen of the moon god was situated.

The outer enclosure of the ziggurat contains a temple storehouse, the priestesses’ house and a royal ceremonial place. Besides, the ziggurat is also served as an administrative complex for people of Ur.

Ziggurat of Ur is a step pyramid which is 64m in length, 46m in width and approximately 30m in height. It is built with baked mud bricks which manage to survive all these ages. It encompasses three tier layers. The two upper layers were the restoration work of Neo Babylonian while the foundation was originally built with baked mud bricks set as bitumen. It was reconstructed under the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The staircases on the front, left and right encompass one hundred steps respectively, led to the gate tower and the first structure of the three layers.

King Shulgi

The ziggurat of Ur was completed by King Shulgi on the 21st century BC. His original intention was to win the allegiance of other cities which controlled by him, in order to do that, he proclaimed himself to be the god. King Shulgi also became the patron of art in Ur. To strengthen his influences, he publicized storied about his power around the city. He was also known to play various musical instruments, master in every weaponry, skillful at hunting running gazelles, slaughtered lion solely and claimed himself was trained to be a scribe. When in school, he was taught to master the cuneiform writing which known as a difficult writing system, learning debate and refine the craft of insulting his opponents before the argument began.

After his death, his sons were unable to maintain the prosperity of the city. With the changing course of the rivers later, the city had become desolated and finally, claimed by the desert again.

Rediscovery of the city of Ur

The temple tower or the ziggurat was first uncovered in the 19th century by William Kenneth Loftus, a geologist and traveler. In 1850- 1854, William Loftus twice visited the site of Warka or better known as Uruk and carried out a detail measurement of the ziggurat. He strongly recommended the site to be excavated.

However, the first excavation on the ziggurat was carrying out by John George Taylor on behalf of British Museum in 1850 and identified the site as Ur. Later, the extensive excavations were conducted by Sir Leonard Woolley in 1920-1934 for the British museum and University of Pennsylvania. Sir Woolley measured the ziggurat meticulously. During his excavation, he discovered the building was part of the original temple complex. At that time, he put the mortar on the arch doorway of the ziggurat to prevent it from erosion. Thanks to his effort, the arch doorway is still well preserved till today.

The treasures inside the royal tomb

During the excavation period, he uncovered the royal tomb of Ur. Queen Pu-Abi’s resting place was able to escape the looting of the tomb raiders. Inside the tomb, he excavated a large amount of jewels such as lapis lazuli, shells, and gold with precious lapis lazuli engraved weapon, bowl, delicate musical instruments, masks that depicted a royal feast and hunting scenes. One of the famous treasures was unearthed in this tomb was a pair of the Ram in the Trinket.

With continued researches, archaeologists believe the ziggurat of Ur has three layers which the top of the layers is dedicated to the moon god only. Inside the ziggurat, there has no chamber found. It was built with thick mud and burnt mud bricks which weight around four and a half kilogram. It was said that the ziggurat used about 720,000 mud bricks to build.

Sumerian’s belief

Ziggurat in the ancient Sumerian’s belief was the meeting place between heaven and earth, or otherwise between god and human. The staircases on the front, left and right side are built for the priests to ascend to the temple to present their offering the god Nanna.

Nonetheless, this elegant monument of Sumerian has stands out of time. With the excavation and restoration, this ziggurat can provide more information about the Sumerian and their culture, beliefs, and social structure. 

Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization has giving us the first written system, the first wheel, the first legislative system, the Hanging Garden of the Babylon, and the Great Ziggurat of Ur. The ziggurat is indeed a gemstone of the history and presented by the Sumerian to all human races on earth.

1 comment

Mick Olson
Posted on Dec 18, 2013