Mesopotamia was the ancient region on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, today's Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The ancient Mesopotamians evolved into three distinct cultures: Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian. The Assyrians settled in the northern half of Mesopotamia, and the Babylonians settled in the southern half. At the same time, the Persians began settlement in the area of Iran, not coming to power until 700 BCE. The ancient capital city of Ashur was the largest city of the Assyrian Empire, boasting a thriving trade platform, government, and the religious capital to crown their kings and tomb burial. The Babylonians built great ziggurats for their gods, and the most significant temple was for their supreme god, Marduk. The Persians built the great city of Persepolis, which means “city of Persians.”
Assyrian (2500 BCE – 1400 BCE)
The Temple of Ashur (4.17) was built around 2500 BCE and occupied until 1400 BCE by the Assyrians. The ancient city of Ashur located 400 kilometers from what is now Bagdad along the banks of the Northern end of the Tigris River. Ashur was the capital for the Assyrians, the center of trading, and the political heart. With a massive ziggurat dedicated to the god, Ashur, the city built with two double walls almost 4 kilometers in length, a moat in-between, and several gates leading into the city center. Most of the buildings made from mud brick stacked on foundations of quarried stone are still standing today, thanks to the Assyrians who were master builders of arches.
The historical site of Nimrud in what is now Iraq was originally built during the 800s BCE. The Assyrian empire built this massive temple and palaces for the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BCE) as the capital. The walls were filled with enormous relief's depicting the story of the king and his position in Mesopotamia. Local gypsum was quarried and transported to the site, cut and positioned into place before artisans carved the elaborate imagery of warfare, hunts, magical protective figures of gods. The reliefs were originally painted with bright colors; however, the paint has disappeared. The palace also produced Nimrud bowls, which were bronze vessels, carved ivory inlaid furniture, and multiple pieces of jewelry.
Babylonia (1654 BCE - 911 BCE)
Ancient Babylonia built brick towers or ziggurats using them as a city center, Etemenanki, the largest of the 20 giant ziggurats. Cuneiform tablets describe the tower with seven terraces, 91 meters tall, the ground floor measuring 91 meters by 91 meters. The highest terrace on the ziggurats was dedicated to the Babylon God Marduk as well as rooms for the other important gods, Ea: water, Nusku: light, and Anu: heaven. The stairs encircled around the entire structure, giving a spiral look to the overall ziggurat. The Persian King Xerxes destroyed the building in 484 BCE during two revolts against the Babylonians, and their culture faded soon afterward, no remains of the tower are left today.
The word ziggurat translates from Akkadian zaqaru which means to rise high.
Persian (518 BCE – 330 BCE)
Founded in 518 BCE, by Darius the Great, Persepolis (4.18) was the home of the Persians. Located on the river Kur and built against the east side of Kuh-e Rahmet (the mountain of mercy), the other three sides contained by retaining walls, creating a level terrace for the city center. The combination between natural terrain and retaining walls produced a large flat surface visible for miles, the terraced plan ingeniously designed and generally easy to defend. Unlike the Temple of Karnak with massive stone columns, the Persian architects designed a lightweight roof of wooden lintels, reducing the overall number of columns needed to support a massive roof. This new style of building was open and encouraged the flow of natural light, creating a structure for the seat of government and spectacular receptions of the kings and festivals for the empire.
Persepolis literally means “city of Persians”
The temple plans included mammoth staircases, gathering rooms, throne rooms, and several extension buildings for those supporting the temple. There were three walls in all; the first was seven feet tall, the second wall was 14 feet tall, and the third wall was thirty feet tall, surrounding the entire city. Persepolis was built using the abundant gray limestone from the surrounding area as well as mud-brick common in the Mesopotamian area. Access for water retrieved from an elevated cistern carved into the hillside caught water from rain. Like other buildings at the time, they had dug extensive tunnels to control and move sewage and water.
The remains of Persepolis (38.1 square meters) display the location of large numbers of enormous buildings built on the surviving foundations that exist today. Fifteen of the massive pillars also still stand today and are located near the main gate to the city, known as the Gate of all Nations (4.19). Two large sets of stairs flank the grand entrance, the stairways were known as the twin masterpieces of proportion and are perfectly symmetrical (4.20). The Persians were masters of low relief carving as seen in the ornamental stair rails and banisters covered with low relief carvings and statues and the enormous winged bulls visible in multiple locations, primarily on columns. In 330 BCE, Alexander the Great sacked, looted and burned Persepolis. After the fire was out, only some columns, doorways, and stairways were left standing.