What a city! What money and power! The neo-Babylonian empire of Nebuchadrezzar II saw Babylon transformed into a vast, sophisticated metropolis. Although no major works of art have survived, the buildings are enough to show that Babylon was a continuation of the ancient southern Mesopotamian traditions which had fallen into decay but were now revived.
Babylon was a show-place, so the architects of the time adorned the facades of their buildings with painted glazed bricks, with the most grandiose effects on the magnificent constructions lining the wide Procession Street, in the Ishtar Gate itself, and the palace of Nebuchadrezzar (see the pictures below).
of the ancient city of Babylon, with its mud brick walls and
The grandiose entrance to this fabulous city: the Ishtar Gate, covered in deep blue tiles
The Ishtar Gate, from a 1963 photograph
Procession Street led from the Ishtar Gate, through the centre of Babylon to the main temple enclosure, Etemenanki, the "Building of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth", where stood
This ziggurat, popularly known as "the Tower of Babel", in fact has no real relation to the Bible story. The only connection is that the Babylon ziggurat is a late imitation of the very early staged temple towers built in most of the Mesopotamian dynastic cities.
Built with two or three terraces, faced with kiln baked bricks, their colossal facades panelled and recessed, these huge structures dominated the Mesopotamian scene centuries before the neo-Babylonian kings instituted a great building programme to restore them to their former glory.
Ur itself and the great cities of Eridu, Kish, Uruk, Nippur and, later, during the Cassite period, Dur Kurigalzu (Aqarqaf) all had ziggurats, the ruins of some of them standing to this day. The ziggurat of Ur-Nammu can be reconstructed from the remains of the building of the neo-Babylonian kings, as shown above.
It is possible that the ziggurat was intended as a "stairway to heaven" and that the worshippers believed the gods descended from heaven to this "halfway house" meeting place.
Genesis (11:1-9) used the form (and makes the first biblical mention of the name of Babylon or Babel) in a vivid story designed to prove that at some point in human history, mankind had been scattered over many lands and thereafter spoke in many languages, forming a veritable "babble of tongues."
Ziggurats were stepped temple towers, built as religious structures. About 25 ziggurats are known. Ziggurats are found in the major cities of what was Mesopotamia and is now modern Iran, spread throughout the ancient lands of Sumeria, Babylonia and Assyria. They were built from circa 2200-500BC.
The Tower of Babel is associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon.
The ziggurats were simulated mountains, and many people in the ancient Near East continued to worship in 'high places'. In Israel, these 'high places' were on top of mountains - see Bible Archaeology: Ancient religions.
A ziggurat had a core of mud brick and an exterior of baked brick. It had no internal chambers (though is was sometimes built over other, more ancient structures) and was usually square or rectangular. An exterior triple stairway or a spiral ramp led to the top of the ziggurat. The terraces were often adorned with trees and shrubs, and this is probably the origin of the idea of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Most ziggurats were about 170ft. square, or 125x170ft. (40x50metres) at the base.
Study Resource for Archaeology