Reframing the ziggurat

Looking at (and from) ancient Mesopotamian temple towers

Authored by: Augusta McMahon

Elements of Architecture

Print publication date:  March  2016
Online publication date:  February  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138775411
eBook ISBN: 9781315641171
Adobe ISBN: 9781317279228


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Monumental architecture is often used as an index of past social complexity and is interpreted as a symbol of past power. But a symbol must be seen in order to be read, and the visibility and settings of monumental buildings, whether these settings are designed or informal, too frequently remain unexplored. The world’s first urban culture originated in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and northeast Syria) and was characterised by monumental architecture. However, the combination of easily eroded mud-brick construction material and the reuse of the same building locations over millennia has made past urban landscapes in this region difficult to reconstruct. Studies of Mesopotamian monumental architecture thus tend to focus on the functional features of single building plans viewed in isolation. Nevertheless, the most distinctive buildings of ancient Mesopotamia, the stepped temple towers or ‘ziggurats’, offer the opportunity to explore aspects of visibility within and beyond the city and may provide useful analogies for built landscapes elsewhere.

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