The Greatest Ziggurat In The World: Tchogha Zanbil

Tchogha Zanbil is an ancient Elamite Complex in the Khuzestan province of  Iran. It is one of the few existence Ziggurats outside of  Mesopotamia. The ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam, surrounded by three huge concentric walls, are found at Tchogha Zanbil. Founded c. 1250 B.C. The city remained unfinished after it was invaded by Ashurbanipal, as shown by the thousands of unused bricks left at the site.

What is Ziggurat?

The ziggurat is the most distinctive architectural invention of the Ancient Near East. Like an ancient Egyptian pyramid, an ancient Near Eastern ziggurat has four sides and rises up to the realm of the gods. However, unlike Egyptian pyramids, the exterior of Ziggurats were not smooth but tiered to accommodate the work which took place at the structure as well as the administrative oversight and religious rituals essential to Ancient Near Eastern cities. Ziggurats are found scattered around what is today Iraq and Iran, and stand as an imposing testament to the power and skill of the ancient culture that produced them.

Outstanding Universal Value

Tchogha Zanbil is located in ancient Elam (today Khuzestan province in southwest Iran), Tchogha Zanbil (Dur-Untash, or City of Untash, in Elamite) was founded by the Elamite king Untash-Napirisha (1275-1240 BCE) as the religious center of Elam. The principal element of this complex is an enormous Ziggurat dedicated to the Elamite divinities Inshushinak and Napirisha (Inshushinak was one of the major gods of the Elamites and the protector deity of Susa, the ziggurat at Tchoqa Zanbil is dedicated to him). It is the largest Ziggurat outside of Mesopotamia and the best preserved of this type of stepped pyramidal monument. The archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil is an exceptional expression of the culture, beliefs, and ritual traditions of one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Iran. Our knowledge of the architectural development of the middle Elamite period (1400-1100 BCE) comes from the ruins of Tchogha Zanbil and of the capital city of Susa 38 km to the north-west of the temple).

The archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil covers a vast, arid plateau overlooking the rich valley of the river Ab-e Diz and its forests. A “sacred city” for the king’s residence, it was never completed and only a few priests lived there until it was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal about 640 BCE. The complex was protected by three concentric enclosure walls: an outer wall about 4 km in circumference enclosing a vast complex of residences and the royal quarter, where three monumental palaces have been unearthed (one is considered a tomb-palace that covers the remains of underground baked-brick structures containing the burials of the royal family); a second wall protecting the temples (Temenus); and the innermost wall enclosing the focal point of the ensemble, the ziggurat.

Tchogha Zanbil originally measured 105.2 m on each side and about 53 m in height, in five levels, and was crowned with a temple. Mud brick was the basic material of the whole ensemble. The ziggurat was given a facing of baked bricks, a number of which have cuneiform characters giving the names of deities in the Elamite and Akkadian languages. Though the ziggurat now stands only 24.75 m high, less than half its estimated original height, its state of preservation is unsurpassed. Studies of the ziggurat and the rest of the archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil containing other temples, residences, tomb-palaces, and water reservoirs have made an important contribution to our knowledge about the architecture of this period of the Elamites, whose ancient culture persisted into the emerging Achaemenid (First Persian) Empire, which changed the face of the civilized world at that time.

The ruins of Susa and of Tchogha Zanbil are the sole testimonies to the architectural development of the middle Elamite period (1400-1100 BCE). The ziggurat at Tchogha Zanbil remains to this day the best-preserved monument of this type and the largest outside of Mesopotamia.

Authenticity

The historical monuments of the archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil are authentic in terms of their forms and design, materials and substance, and locations and setting. Several conservation measures have been undertaken since the original excavations of the site between 1946 and 1962, but they have not usually disturbed its historical authenticity.

Protection of Tchogha Zanbil

Tchogha Zanbil was registered in the national list of Iranian monuments as item no. 895 on 26 January 1970. Relevant national laws and regulations concerning the property include the National Heritage Protection Law (1930, updated 1998) and the 1980 Legal bill on preventing clandestine diggings and illegal excavations. The inscribed World Heritage property, which is owned by the Government of Iran, and its buffer zone are administered by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran). A Management Plan was prepared in 2003 and has since been implemented. Planning for tourism management, landscaping, and emergency evacuation for the property has been accomplished and implementation was in progress in 2013. A research center has undertaken daily, monthly, and annual monitoring of the property since 1998. Financial resources for Tchogha Zanbil are provided through national budgets.

Conservation activities have been undertaken within a general framework, including development of scientific research programs; comprehensive conservation of the property and its natural-historical context; expansion of the conservation program to the surrounding environment; concentration on engaging the public and governmental organizations and agencies; and according special attention to programs for training and presentation (with the aim of developing cultural tourism) based on sustainable development. Objectives include research programs and promotion of a conservation management culture; scientific and comprehensive conservation of the property and surrounding area; and development of training and introductory programmers.

Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require creating a transparent and regular funding system, employing efficient and sustainable management systems, supporting continuous protection and presentation, enjoying the public support and giving life to the property, adopting a “minimum intervention” approach, and respecting the integrity and authenticity of the property and its surrounding environment. In addition, any outstanding recommendations of past expert missions to the property should be addressed.

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