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Dur Untoš (Choga Zanbil)


Model of Choga Zanbil at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Model of the ziggurat (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden)
Dur-Untoš: name of an Elamite town, famous for it ziggurat, modern Choga Zanbil.
 
City Ziggurat Court

In the center of Dur-Untaš was the ziggurat, a type of monument that was always built by kings. In ancient Mesopotamia, in the earliest times, there was a conflict between the two great organizations, the temple and the palace. By building a ziggurat, the king showed that he could perform more impressive religious deeds than the clergy.

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Building inscription. Photo Marco Prins.
Building inscription

The ziggurat of Dur Untaš was built long after this conflict, but the king was still the proud builder of the monument. An inscription inside a gate mentions king Untaš-Napiriša:
I, Untaš-Napiriša, son of Šutur-Nahhunte, king of Anšan and Susa [...] rebuilt the temple of Kiriša, lady of Lyan, my goddess.

A drain, close to the southern corner. Photo Marco Prins.
A drain, close to the southern corner

Untaš-Napiriša's temple mountain, which was at some stage rededicated to Inšušinak, once had five levels and is the best preserved of all ancient ziggurats. It is easy to imagine that it once looked as if it reached to heaven, and in Antiquity, it was even easier, because the building, now 25 meters high, used to measure 52 meters. Many travelers must have seen it, because close to the ziggurat was the Royal Road from Susa to Persis.

Among the travelers who passed its ruins must have been people like Cyrus the Great, Darius I the Great, and Alexander the Great. There are many sources about these men, and it comes as a surprise that the building is not mentioned at all. A possible explanation is that it looked like a big rock, no longer recognizable as a human artificact.

Model of a tower. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Jona Lendering.
Model of a tower (Louvre, Paris)

After all, the artificial mountain was made of tiles, which were protected against the wind and rain by a shell of bricks. Once a hole had been made in this artificial shell, greater damage was fairly easily done. It is therefore certainly possible that in Achaemenid times, the ziggurat of Dur Untaš looked like a strange rock, not as a monument erected by human hands.

The temple of Inšušinak was on the top of the tower. It was believed that from this point, the god could ascend to heaven or come down to earth. This idea is also present in the name of the Babylonian temple tower Etemenanki: place of the foundation of heaven on earth.

What the structure itself must have looked like when its decoration and ornaments were still there, is unknown, but perhaps the little model of a tower that is now in the Louvre may help us: there may have been battlements, sometimes triangle-shaped, on all levels of the ziggurat.

Choga Zanbil. Photo Marco Prins.
The northeastern side of the ziggurat View from the southeast; outer temenos wall in front View from the northeast; in front a field full of sherds The southwestern part of the inner court
Choga Zanbil. Photo Marco Prins.
Large walls of brick covering an inner core of tiles. Once, the the glazed bricks of the ziggurat were painted in fresh colors. On several places, you can still see traces of paint. One of the entrances to the complex, in the southeastern part. Note the inscriptions in the wall. Inside the gate was a second gate, which could be closed. This is part of the giant lock.
Doorknob(s) from Choga Zanbil. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Doorknob(s) from Choga Zanbil. Archaeological Museum, Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
Doorknob from Choga Zanbil. Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis, Brussel (Belgium). Photo Jona Lendering.
Doorknob(s) from Choga Zanbil (Louvre, Paris) Doorknob from Choga Zanbil (Archaeological Museum, Tehran) Doorknob from Choga Zanbil (Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis, Brussel)
Doorknob from Choga Zanbil. Archaeological museum of Susa (Iran). Photo Jona Lendering. Doorknob from Choga Zanbil. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins. Doorknob from Choga Zanbil. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Doorknob from Choga Zanbil (Archaeological museum of Susa) Doorknob from Choga Zanbil (British Museum, London) Doorknob from Choga Zanbil. Musei Vaticani (Rome)

City Ziggurat Court
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 21 July 2009
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