Some 4,000 years ago, this pale, stark spit of the Iraqi desert was the center of civilization. Today the ruins of the great city of Ur, once an administrative capital of Mesopotamia, now lie in a barren wasteland near Iraq’s most notorious prison. In the shadow of the prison’s high fences, Abo Ashraf, the self-proclaimed guardian of the archaeological site, and a handful of tourists are the only signs of life for miles. At the end of a long wooden walkway, an impressive ziggurat is about all that remains of the ancient Sumerian metropolis.
To get here, I was packed into the back seat of a taxi driving through the desert for hours, until I began to see the city’s famous landmark looming in the distance: the Ziggurat of Ur, a 4,100-year-old massive, levels. pagoda lined with gigantic stairs. A tall chain-link fence barricading the entrance and a paved parking lot were the only hints of the modern world.
The first ziggurats predate the Egyptian pyramids, and some remains can still be found in present-day Iraq and Iran. They are as imposing as their Egyptian counterparts and also served religious purposes, but they differed in several ways: ziggurats had several terraced levels compared to the flat walls of the pyramids, they had no inner chambers and had temples on top . instead of the tombs inside.
“A ziggurat is a sacred building, basically a temple on a platform with a staircase,” said Maddalena Rumor, a Near Eastern specialist at Case Western Reserve University in the US. “The earliest temples show simple one-room shrine constructions on a light platform. Over time, temples and platforms were constantly rebuilt and expanded, increasing in complexity and size, reaching their most perfect form in the multi-tiered Ziggurat. [of Ur].”
The ziggurat of Ur was built a little later (about 680 years after the first pyramids), but it is known because it is one of the best preserved, and because of its location in Ur, which holds a prominent place in the books of history. . According to Rumor, Mesopotamia was the origin of artificial irrigation: the people of Ur cut canals and channels to regulate the flow of water and irrigate the land further from the banks of the Euphrates River. Ur is also believed to be the birthplace of the biblical Abraham and, as Ashraf explained as he walked us through the city’s ruined walls, the home of the first law code, the Code of Ur-Nammu, written around 2100 BCE – 400 years before the older Code known to Hammurabi of Babylon.