Temple-tower used in Mesopotamian religions, being the foremost religious edifice.
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 Chogha Zanbil in Elam (today Iran). The latter of these is believed to have been nearly 50 meters high, but only half of that height remains.
The ziggurats were built of mud-brick, with facades made from glazed brick. The base was either square or rectangular, and the most common size for it was either 50×50 or 40×50 meters. From the base, new steps were added, until the ziggurat was topped by a small sanctuary.
All walls were sloping, and all horizontal lines were slightly convex, in order to make them less rigid when seen by the human eye. It is believed that the sloping walls were covered with trees and shrubs.
Ascent to the top was either by a triple stairway or by a spiral ramp. But for half of the existing ziggurats, there are no visible means of ascent.
The ziggurat was probably not the place of public worship or ceremonies, but rather the house of God. Through the ziggurat, the gods could be close to mankind. The cults in the ziggurats were performed and witnessed only by the priests, and their assignments were to provide for all the needs of the gods.
There are several ideas about the symbolic meaning behind the ziggurats. One is that they were reconstructions of the mountain temples that the new inhabitants of Mesopotamia used to erect while they lived in either the Taurus (now Turkey) or the Zagros Mountains (now Iran).
Another theory tells that the ziggurat was a reconstruction of the cosmic mountain from the creation myths.
A third theory tells us that the ziggurat was built as a bridge between heaven and earth.
A fourth theory is linked with Egypt, where the predating step pyramids have many similarities to the ziggurat, and people and ideas moved between distant regions even in ancient times. All four theories can be true at the same time, at least in part.
Building and Inauguration
While the pyramids of Egypt have presented us with a mystery as to how they were built, we do not have the same problem with the ziggurats. Where the largest and finest pyramids were built from enormous stones often transported long-distance, the ziggurats were built from small mud bricks that were locally produced.
In one of the local myths, we hear about how King Gudea of Lagash was given the assignment to erect a ziggurat by the god Ningirsu who appeared to him in a dream. Ningirsu even presented to Gudea how the ziggurat should look like.
The process of building the ziggurat was in itself a religious act, everyone participating had to be good, honest human beings, and during the building period, frequent offerings had to brought forth to the gods.
The initiation of the completed temple was a great celebration often lasting several days. During this celebration, a holy wedding between two of the gods was staged, and plenty of offerings were presented to the most important gods.