The Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil

The Egyptians had pyramids, the Mesopotamians had ziggurats, which are massive brick structures with raised platforms with successively receding levels. Nobody knows what they stood for, but it’s presumed that they once contained shrines dedicated to the gods and had living quarters for priests. The Great Ziggurat of Ur in Iraq is one fine example of a ziggurat. But Choga Zanbil is one of the few ziggurats that lies outside Mesopotamia, and it’s the largest one among them. The ziggurat stands at the site of the ancient city of Elam, in today’s Khuzestan province in southwest Iran.

Choga Zanbil was built around 1250 BCE by the king Untash-Napirisha to honor the great god Inshushinak. But before the ziggurat could be completed, the king died and construction of the complex was abandoned. When the Assyrians attacked Choga Zanbil six centuries later, there were still thousands of bricks stacked at the site.

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A recreation of the ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil.

The ziggurat is only a part of the complex. There are also temples, a total of eleven, dedicated to the lesser gods at the site. It is believed that king Untash-Napirisha originally planned twenty-two temples, which some scholars believe was an attempt to create a new religious center, possibly intended to replace Susa.

The ziggurat originally measured one hundred meters on each side and was about fifty meters in height, in five levels, at the apex of which stood a temple. It now stands 24 meters high, less than half its estimated original height. Its ornate facade was once covered in glazed blue and green terra-cotta, and its interior was decorated in glass and ivory mosaics. Glazed terracotta statues such as bulls and winged griffins guarded the entrances to the ziggurat.

Although the glazed tiles have long been stripped off the façade, the ziggurat, in general, is in an exceedingly good state of preservation. In 1979, Chogha Zanbil became the first Iranian site to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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Photo credit: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.com

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Photo credit: peuplier/Flickr

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Photo credit: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.com

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