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Tchogha Zanbil

Tchogha Zanbil is the ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam, centered on a great ziggurat and surrounded by three huge concentric walls. Founded around 1250 BC, the city remained unfinished after it was invaded by Ashurbanipal in 640 BC.

Archaeological excavations between 1951 and 1962 revealed the site again, and the ziggurat is considered to be the best preserved example in the world. It is one of the few extant ziggurats outside of Mesopotamia. It was built about 1250 BCE by the king Untash-Napirisha, mainly to honour the great god Inshushinak.

The complex is protected by three concentric walls, which form three main areas of the "town." The inner area is wholly taken up with a great ziggurat dedicated to the main god, which was built over an earlier square temple with storage rooms also built by Untash-Napirisha.

The middle area holds eleven temples for lesser gods. It is believed that twenty-two temples were originally planned, but the king died before they could be finished, and his successors discontinued the building work. In the outer area are royal palaces, a funerary palace containing five subterranean royal tombs, and a necropolis containing non-elite tombs.

Year Decision Comments
1979 Inscribed Reasons for inscription
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Reviews

Iain Jackson (Scotland UK):
Early one morning in May 1999 I arrived, by overnight bus from Shiraz, in Shush, the town in Southern Iran nearest to Tchoga Zanbil. There it was very easy to find a taxi driver prepared to take me the 40kms or so, through semi-desert though once fertile country, to this site (prices in Iran were very low at the time of my visit).

The heart of this site is an impressive pile, of mud brick construction, said to be the largest surviving ziggurat in the world. Now, more than 3000 years after it was built, having been sacked by the Assyrians in 640BC and having spent most of the time since then buried in the desert sands it stands about 25m high. It has, however, been calculated that it was once more than twice this height having lost 2 of its 5 storeys over the years.

Some visitors might feel that some of the restoration has been a bit over enthusiastic, with large areas of obviously new brickwork on the lower parts of the structure, a process which was being continued, at a fairly gentle pace, when I was there.

I was surprised to find that I was allowed to climb all over the Ziggurat which stands on a low plinth measuring 105m on each side. There are the remains of a number of other structures including a large surrounding wall and others which were once royal palaces. I was particularly impressed by a water supply and drainage system which brought water from a site 40kms away (though why this was thought necessary given that we are on the tree lined banks of the river Dez here I was not able to establish).

After about two hours contentedly ambling around the site, at which I was the only visitor, I'd seen enough and so took my taxi back to Shush.

This remains the only ziggurat I have seen. I don't expect to see a more impressive one.
Date posted: January 2011


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