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The Ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu

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This enormous structure rising over the desert sands near the Euphrates River resembles a sandstone butte but is actually made of mud-bricks, and is about 3,400 years old. The structure was originally a ziggurat standing some 60 meters tall with a foundation about 70 meters square. What remains today is the core; the rest was destroyed along with the city of Dur-Kurigalzu that was invaded by the Elamites in the 12th century BC.

Dur-Kurigalzu was founded in the early 14th century BC by King Kurigalzu of the Kassite Dynasty. It served as the capital of the Kassites as they ruled over Babylonia without interruption for almost four hundred years—the longest rule by any dynasty in Babylonian history.

Dur-Kurigalzu, or the 'fortress of Kurigalzu', is located near the Aqar Quf depression, about 30 kilometers west of the center of Baghdad. It was positioned to protect an important trade route that led east across the Iranian plateau to Afghanistan, the source of lapis lazuli—a semi-precious stone with an intense blue color. At its peak, the city covered 225 hectares and was enclosed by a large wall. The city had an elongated shape and featured several mounds, perhaps reflecting a functional separation of the parts of the site. The most visible monument was the ziggurat devoted to the main god of the Babylonian pantheon, Enlil. For centuries, camel caravans and later modern road traffic used the ziggurat as a landmark on their way to Baghdad. Locals called it the “Hill of Nimrud” which caused many western travellers to confuse it with the Tower of Babel.

The ziggurat is highly eroded and is in the risk of collapsing, but it is the erosion that makes the ziggurat so valuable to architectural historians because it exposes the details of construction that are not readily available in any other temple tower. Nowhere else are the layers of reed mats and reed bundles that hold the structure together and offset differential settling as visible as they are here.

The site was first identified in the early 19th century, and the lowest terrace of the ziggurat was excavated in the 1940s. The first level was restored by the Saddam Hussein government during the 1970s.

The leading image of this article is from the book “By Nile and Tigris : a narrative of Journeys in Egypt and Mesopotamia on behalf of the British Museum between the years 1886 and 1913.”

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Aerial image of the ziggurat captured during an air trip to Baghdad via Amman. Photo credit: US Library of Congress

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The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu after it was restored

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The ziggurat of Dur-Kurigalzu after it was restored. The photo was taken in 2010. Photo credit: Spc. David Robbins

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