The World's Greatest Architecture - Past & Present
Ishtar Gate, Babylon
Although the city of Babylon existed in the 3rd millennium BC, it only became important in the first half of the 18th Century BC, when Hammurabi made it the capital of an empire comprising most of Mesopotamia, from the Persian Gulf to the borders of Anatolia. It was raided and sacked by the Hittites and others in succeeding centuries and was dominated by Assyria from the 9th century until the fall of Assyria in 612 BC. Under a dynasty of Chaldean kings, notably Nebuchadnezzar II, it again became a major political power in the Near East.
The new Babylon, whose ruins, first seriously excavated at the beginning of the 20th century, can still be seen on the River Euphrates about 55 miles south of Baghdad, was essentially the creation of Nebuchadnezzar. Straddling the river and guarded b a three part wall, it covered an area of up to 12 miles in circumference, and contained such fabulous structures as a seven stages ziggurat that has been popularly identified with the Tower of Babel and Nebuchadnezzar's palace with its alleged Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In fact, excavations have shown that the palace was much smaller than might have been expected.
The main entrance to the city was through the Ishtar Gate, which led to the Processional Way, the main central avenue that bisected the city. The glazed brickwork, decorated with heraldic animals, sometimes in relief, adorned the Processional Way and Nebuchadnezzar's palace, as well as the Ishtar Gate which, carefully restored, is now in the National Museum in Berlin. The animals, not only real ones such as lions and bulls but also obscure mythical ones, were originally modeled on a large panel of soft clay. The panel was then cut into bricks, fired, and reassembled on the wall. Colors, on a deep blue background, are bright and varied. The technique was not new, but it had never been employed on such a large scale before. It so impressed the Persians, who under Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 539 BC, that they took Babylonian craftsmen back to decorate their capital at Susa.