Study Aid 2: Architecture and Urbanism in Ancient Mesopotamia and Persia

The area of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers known as Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) has been called the cradle of civilization because of the numerous civilizations that arose there, some as early or earlier than that of Egypt. The earliest cultures, known collectively as the Sumerians, arose in the southern part of the region on alluvial plains. Consisting of independent city-states, Sumerian architecture was constructed primarily of sun-dried mud (adobe) bricks. The most important early urban center was Uruk which had a sizable population by 3500 BC. Uruk's White Temple has a traditionally planned sanctuary elevated above the town on a platform with sloping or battered walls. These elevated temples evolved into monumental ziggurats, or stepped pyramids. Dedicated to various deities, the top of the ziggurat was where it was believed man and god came together, e.g. Zigurat of Ur-Nammu, Ur, begun 2100 or 2000 BC. The city of Ur was walled with a somewhat open sacred precinct. The residential sections of the city generally display an organic pattern of growth with courtyard-type houses.

Beginning in the 10th century BC, the militaristic Assyrians of northern Mesopotamia began to create an empire through the conquest of neighboring cultures. King Sargon II built his heavily fortified imperial complex at Khorsabad, (aka Dun Sharrukin) between 713-707 BC. When the Assyrian empire was finally defeated late in the 7th century BC, a series of rulers (esp. Nebuchadnezzar II, c. 575 BC) began to revive Babylonian culture and made Babylon itself the most beautiful city in the world. The city featured a double set of fortified walls, a sacred precinct with a ziggurat and many regular straight streets and a grand processional way that led through the tiled Ishtar gate.

Persepolis (aka Parsa, 518 BC-460 BC) was built under the Persian emperors Darius, Xerxes, and Artexerxes. One of four major Persian palaces, it was dedicated to ceremonies related to politics rather than religion, which is reflected in its sculptural program. Persepolis was planned around courtyards and generally square halls with columns supporting the roof. Called hypostyle halls, these spaces were inspired by Egyptian prototypes. The complex was burned during its occupation by Alexander the Great's army in 326 BC.

Ziggurat of Ur-Nammu

Date: 2120 BC or 2000 BC
Location: Ur
Architect: Unknown
Patron: King Ur-Nammu




Current Reconstructed Condition

City of Ur

Date: 2000 BC
Location: Ur (Mesopotamia)
Architect: Unknown


Plan of Ur showing excavated areas


Plan of excavated residential area


Reconstruction - Courtyard-Type House


Palace of Darius & Xerxes

Date: 518-460 BC
Location: Persepolis
Architect: Unknown
Patron: Darius and Xerxes


Current View of Palace Ruins


Axonometric Reconstruction


Perspective Section of Hall of 100 Columns


Ruins of Egyptian-Type Buildings


Staircase with Dignitaries