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Sumeria - Ziggurats

The priests ruled from their temples, called ziggurats, which were essentially artificial mountains of sunbaked brick, built with outside staircases that tapered toward a shrine at the top. Mircea Eliade argued that man tried to live in the presence of the sacred because he desired access to the ultimate reality and to the power of the sacred. The axis mundi, the vertical feature, was seen as the center of the world and as linking together all three cosmic levels. Instead of a pole, pillar or tree, the axis mundi might be, say, a ladder or a mountain. Beliefs in cosmic mountains included the idea that 'our world' is holy because it is the place closest to heaven. Eliade notes that temples might be seen as equivalents of sacred mountains. Indeed, some, such as the Babylonian ziggurat, were built to be artificial sacred mountains.

Ziggurats were built and used from around 2200 BCE until 500 BCE. Today, about 25 remain, found in an area from southern Babylonia all the way north to Assyria. The best preserved is the ziggurat of Nanna in Ur (today Iraq), while the largest is found at Chonga Zanbil in Elam (today Iran).

The temple had an inner and outer court, both of which were nearly square, the latter being somewhat smaller than the former. The prominent feature of the temple architecture was the ziggurat, or storied-tower, which occupied nearly onethird of the area of the inner court. In close proximity to the tower stood the temple proper, where the sacrifices were offered. The ziggurat co'nsisted of quadrangular platforms, one superimposed upon the other, on the top of which was to be found the shrine. The number of platforms varied according to the period and ability of the builder. In the 3d millennium B.c. the number generally appears to have been three.

In their cosmology the Semitic Babylonian conception of the earth was a mountain over which the god Bel ruled. This they believed extended down into Ea's region (subterranean waters), and also that it reached up unto that of Anu (Heaven). They regarded the ziggurat as symbolical of the earth, the dominion of Bel. In their inscriptions, therefore, concerning the building or restorations of these towers, the following expression is repeatedly found: "I laid the foundations of the ziggurat in that breast of the earth and built it up so that its head was in the heavens10 (compare the story of Babel, Gen. xi), thus showing that the ziggurat was a representation of Bel's kingdom, the earth.

Because the well-being of the community depended upon close observation of natural phenomena, scientific or proto-scientific activities occupied much of the priests' time. For example, the Sumerians believed that each of the gods was represented by a number. The number sixty, sacred to the god An, was their basic unit of calculation. The minutes of an hour and the notational degrees of a circle were Sumerian concepts. The highly developed agricultural system and the refined irrigation and water-control systems that enabled Sumer to achieve surplus production also led to the growth of large cities.

The Ziggurat of Ur-Nammu is the largest stepped pyramid left standing from the Sumerians. It is 210 by 150 feet with the corners pointing towards the compass directions. The Ziggurat is thought to be the home of the Moon God Nanna. At the top of the structure there is a shrine were woman each night would stay with the god. Made on the command of Ur-Nammu in somewhere between the years 2113-2096 BC. Even though there used to be many Ziggurats spread around Mesopotamia. The Ziggurat of Ur is the one that is most preserved. And even though it was well preserved it had to be partially reconstructed by the Iraq government in the 1960s. Of the the famous Seven Wonders of the Ancient World the 146.6 meter [476 feet] tall [230 meters / 748 feet on each side] Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) at Giza is the only one still standing.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:41:40 ZULU