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The Sacred Complex of Babylon

Date of Submission: 29/10/2003
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture
Coordinates: The site, part of the larger archaeological area of Babylon, is situated 90 km south of Baghdad, on the east of the Euphrates River, around 320 km above its junction with the Tigris.
Ref.: 1837
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Description

The Sacred Complex of Babylon, comprising the Esagila temple dedicated to the God of Marduk and the ziggurat Etemenanki (the legendary Tower of Babylon), constituted the spiritual and political hearth of Babylon, capital of the Old Kingdom of Babylonia. With an extension of ca. 180x125 meters of the major temple Esagila (the "House of the Headraising"), and ca. 460x410 meters of the tower complex Etemenanki, meaning "the foundation of heaven and earth", this was the most massive walled-in space within the city. Out of the substructure of approximately 90 x 90 meters, the height of which was in the original of about 15 meters, the tower developed in all together five more levels, one smaller than the other. Both of these Mesopotamian architectural components formed one unit, so that the low temple Esagila, is neither in its construction nor in its content to be separated from Etemenanki. Their cultic connection was established by the procession street Aj-ibur-shapu running between them, which allowed equal access to both sanctuaries. The ruins of Esagila have been partially excavated. On the other hand, for the tower archaeologists discovered a core consisting of the ruins of previous ziggurats, which had been levelled and enlarged several times, before Nebuchadnezzar added a casing of burnt brick 15m thick. Of this structure, the ground plan and traces of the three stairs leading up to the upper levels have been preserved. The above structures were at the core of the city of Babylon, mentioned in documents of the late third millennium BC and which became important early in the 2nd millennium under the kings of the First Dynasty. The sixth king of this dynasty was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) who made Babylon the capital of a vast empire and is best remembered for his code of laws. Sacked by the Hittites in 1595 BCE, during the Second Dynasty of Isin (1157-1026 BCE), Babylon became the capital of southern Mesopotamia and its patron deity Marduk became the national god. In the Neo-Babylonian period (7th-6th century BC), the city once again achieved pre-eminence. Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE) rebuilt Babylon, which became the largest ancient settlement in Mesopotamia. There were two sets of fortified walls and massive palaces and religious buildings, including the central ziggurat tower. According to the tradition, several attempts were made to build the Tower, lastly by Nebuchadnezzar II. The bulk of the tower was built with unbaked bricks made by mixing chopped straw with clay and pouring the results into moulds. The bricks were joined in the construction by using bitumen, material imported from the Iranian plateau and used widely as a binding and coating material throughout the Mesopotamian plain. Following the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 539 BCE, the Tower of Babylon was probably gravely damaged, and left in a state of neglect and abandonment until 331 BCE, when the city was taken by Alexander the Great, who planned to rebuild the tower. At that time, most of the debris were removed in preparation for the reconstruction of the Tower, never actually implemented due to the sudden death of Alexander in Babylon. Babylon was excavated by Robert Koldeway between 1899 and 1917 on behalf of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft. Excavations uncovered substantial remains of the time of the Neo-Babylonian Period including the Esagila and the Tower of Babylon.