When Athens flourished, Babylon was but a provincial town; the desire of Alexander the Great as ruler of Asia to make the city once more the capital of an empire was thwarted by his untimely death; when the Roman legions conquered Europe, its name was scarcely remembered. The tradition passed on derived for the most part from the Bible and was all but praiseworthy: "The Babylonian Whore". The city became a symbol of vice and lechery. For a long time Europe only knew this image. Yet Babylon was once a thriving metropolis, situated on the navigable Euphrates, in the midst of abundant fields and palm gardens. It was the center of international trade and of specialized industries, the abode of the god Marduk and his powerful priesthood, as well as the seat of political power of an empire comparable to that of the Romans. Our knowledge of these facts only became available when, in the 19th century, excavations commenced in the Near East.
The exploration of Babylon began relatively late in time, probably because the remains of the city were by no means imposing. Mere heaps of debris and mounds of sand, only one of which still bore the name "Babil", gave account of the location and size of the town. The remnants of colored glazed bricks suggesting that splendid buildings must have existed in the city, however, facilitated the decision to begin exploration there. What the excavators, digging on behalf of the Berlin Museums and the German Oriental Society, unearthed during 18 years of continuous work from 1899 to 1917, elevated Babylon to the first rank of important cities of Antiquity.
The beginnings of Babylon lay in the 3rd millennium B.C. Only at the beginning of the 2nd millennium, however, does a dynasty of Babylonian kings become evident, constantly contesting neighboring states for the rule of Mesopotamia. King Hammurabi (1792-1750) eventually succeeded in uniting into one empire the lands from the region of the Persian Gulf all the way to eastern Syria. At the beginning of the first millennium B.C., Babylon was under Assyrian rule. Following the collapse of the Assyrian Empire in 612, Babylon once more became a capital. The so-called Neo-Babylonian Empire, whose most important kings were Nabopolassar (625-605) and Nebuchadnezzar (605-562), comprised the entire cultivated land and the steppe regions of the Near East west of the Tigris. From all parts of the empire, booty and tribute as well as merchandise flowed into the city and formed, next to an enormous agricultural income, the base of its wealth, which was to find its architectural expression in buildings of a hitherto unknown scale. But already in 539 the Persians conquered the country, and Babylon lost its significance. In the course of the following centuries the city was slowly deserted.
Babylon was situated on both sides of the Euphrates, the old town to the east, another half of the town to the west of the river. It was protected by a double ring of walls, the inner wall being some 6.5, and the outer wall 3.5 meters thick. At distances of 17-18 meters, towers of, respectively, 11 and 4.5 meters width formed part of the defenses. At least 8 double gateways stretching 50 meters afforded entrance to the city. The old town alone comprised an area of ca. 2 1/4 km2, a large part of which was occupied by palaces and temples. Further protection was offered by the eastern wall spanning some 8 km, which also protected buildings beyond the inner city, for example, the Summer Palace in the north.
In the center was situated the double temple complex of the god Marduk, the tutelary deity of the town. At the beginning of spring, Marduk received in his temple Esagila the statues of the country's gods preparatory to the celebration of the New Year's Festival, lasting eleven days. The festival served as cultic introduction of the year and was the occasion to fix destinies and probably also to confirm the office of the king. While the role of the ground level temple Esagila, in whose chapels the images of the gods were erected, is clear, the purpose in the cult of the temple tower Etemenanki, situated further to the north, remains uncertain. And yet it is this edifice to which Babylon owes its fame. Measuring 90 m along its sides and of about the same height, Etemenanki was that "Tower of Babel" which was admired by Herodotus and mentioned in the Bible. Built with mud bricks within a facing of baked bricks, it rose above the land in seven levels, constituting a pinnacle in the architectural tradition of high temples. Robbed of bricks and decayed in later millennia, only remains of the foundations and legend bear witness to the past glory of this tower. A side from the main sanctuary, other temples were built in the town. There were, furthermore, as yet unexcavated chapels situated in the residential districts, public places of sacrifice and family sanctuaries.
Among other eminent buildings of Babylon are above all the palaces of the kings. These were situated in the north, close to the bank of the river, inside and outside the city walls. The most fully reconstructable of these buildings is the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, which, situated inside the city, was divided by five large courts. It constituted the administrative center of the town and the empire; to the south of the central courtyard was situated the colossal throne room, whose outer walls were decorated with reliefs and paintings of glazed bricks-a jewel of Mesopotamian architecture. A vaulted construction in the northeastern part of the palace suggests that the building had been erected as a multistoried structure, as may already be deduced from the considerable thickness of the walls. The famous "Hanging Gardens" were for a long time thought to have been located here, but their real location is still disputed. The residential districts have until now been little explored. They offer a picture that is still typical of the Orient today: narrow, twisted lanes, sometimes enlarged into small squares, with buildings, often consisting of only a ground floor, whose outer walls are windowless. Their ground plans, though, resemble those of the palaces: the court, as central element connecting the rooms, was the main living room of the Babylonian extended family. It offered fresh air and cooling shade-here was the place to cook and bake. It was the day room of the family, where as the night, at least in the hot season, was spent on the roof. Mobile and thus archaeologically insignificant markets provided the supplies for the population. A central market place has never been located. Similarly uncertain remains the sanitary supply and disposal, even though water lines as well as toilets and sewage installations are known.
Processional Way and Ishtar Gate
Today the most famous buildings of Babylon are the Processional Way and the Ishtar Gate. They were situated at the northern limits of the old city, where access had been confined by the outer walls of the palaces. The road was thus bordered on both sides by walls and town planners were afforded the opportunity to decorate the course of the street with a frieze of glazed bricks. The choice of decoration was determined by the New Year's Festival. On the eleventh day of the festival the procession of gods followed the street on its way from the outer festival house to the temples in the center of Babylon. Building inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar II point explicitly to this fact. The visitor to Babylon saw two rows of striding lions-symbols of the goddess Ishtar-before he arrived at the gate. In a stretch of ca. 180 m were once 120 lions, 60 on each side. The walled street canyon was 20 m wide and 250 m long. This enclosed part of the Processional Way was, however, shorter than its continuation to the corner of the Etemenanki sanctuary, where it turned off and ended at the bridge over the Euphrates. Destination and high point of the outer part of the city was the Ishtar Gate. Integrated into the procession course, it had been furnished with colored reliefs, here covering the complete outer wall. Erected in three building stages, the uppermost level displayed colored representations of dragons and bulls, the symbols of the gods Marduk and Adad. In the Vorderasiatisches Museum, only parts of this installation have been reconstructed: about 30 m of street walls 8 m apart, as well as the smaller city gate with its two flanking towers. From countless fragments, the animals of the relief have here been pieced together with some parts of the walls, showing that the reconstruction largely matches the original.
The roof and doors of the gate were of cedar, according to the dedication plaque. Through the gate ran the Processional Way which was lined with walls covered in lions on glazed bricks (about 120 of them).
Statues of the deities were paraded through the gate and down the Processional Way each year during the New Year's celebration.
Originally the gate, as part of the Walls of Babylon, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the world until, in the 6th century AD, it was replaced with the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
The reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way was built at the Pergamon Museum out of material excavated by Robert Koldewey and finished in the 1930s. It includes the inscription plaque. It stands 14 meters high and 30 meters wide. The excavation ran from 1902-1914 and during that time 45 feet of the foundation of the gate was uncovered.
The gate was in fact a double-gate. The part that is shown in the Pergamon Museum today is only the smaller frontal part, while the larger back part was considered too large to fit into the constraints of the structure of the museum. It is in storage.
Parts of the gate and lions from the Processional Way are in various other museums around the world. Only three museums acquired dragons while lions went to several museums. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum has lions, dragons, and bulls. The Detroit Institute of Arts houses a dragon. The Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg, Sweden, has one dragon and one lion .The Louvre, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Oriental Institute in Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Yale University Art Gallery of New Haven, Connecticut, each have lions.
A smaller reproduction of the gate was built in Iraq under Saddam Hussein as the entrance to a museum that has not been completed. Damage to the reproduction gate has occurred since the Iraq war.
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