At the center of each major city in Mesopotamia was a large structure called a ziggurat. The ziggurat was built to honor the main god of the city. The tradition of building a ziggurat was started by the Sumerians, but other civilizations of Mesopotamia such as the Akkadians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians also built ziggurats.
The Ziggurat of the city of Ur
based on a 1939 drawing by Leonard Woolley
What did they look like?
Ziggurats looked like step pyramids. They would have anywhere from 2 to 7 levels or steps. Each level would be smaller than the one before. Typically the ziggurat would be square in shape at the base.
How big did they get?
Some ziggurats are believed to have been huge. Perhaps the largest ziggurat was the one at Babylon. Recorded dimensions show that it had seven levels and reached a height of nearly 300 feet. It was also 300 feet by 300 feet square at its base.
Why did they build them?
The ziggurat was a temple to the main god of the city. Each city in Mesopotamia had a primary god. For example, Murdock was the god of Babylon, Enki was the god of Eridu, and Ishtar was the goddess of Nineveh. The ziggurat showed that the city was dedicated to that god.
At the top of the ziggurat was a shrine to the god. The priests would perform sacrifices and other rituals here. They built them high because they wanted the shrine to be as close to the heavens as possible.
Are there any ziggurats left?
Many of the ziggurats have been destroyed over the past several thousands of years. The famous huge ziggurat of Babylon was said to have been in ruins by the time Alexander the Great conquered the city in 330 BC. The ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil is one of the last surviving ziggurats. Some ziggurats have been reconstructed or rebuilt. The ziggurat at the city Ur is one that has been somewhat rebuilt.
Interesting Facts About Ziggurats
The ziggurat at Babylon was named Etemenanki. This meant "Foundation of heaven and Earth" in Sumerian.
The tall height of the ziggurat may have also been useful during the seasonal flooding.
There were generally only a few ramps leading up to the top of the ziggurat. This made the top easy to guard and helped keep the priest's rituals private, if they wanted.