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Mesopotamia – A Quick Reference

Mesopotamia(4500-2000 BC) is considered as one of the earliest civilizations. Years ago, our ancestors learned to control fire, build social links with each other, attachment to the remains of the dead, and worship symbolic images and objects.

  • The earliest civilizations refer to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (modern-day Iraq).
  • The historians refer to Fertile Crescent was called Mesopotamia from the Greek meaning “the land between two rivers.”
  • Archeologists have found large collections of clay tablets. Found the remains of chariots, harps, and jewelry.
  • Important development from the prehistoric period was writing things down, recording history, and keeping track of laws.
  • Materials used – stone, brick, clay
  • Inventions during this period – the wheel, the development of the cursive script, mathematics, astronomy, and agriculture.
  • First permanent structures built.
  • Building materials – mortarless masonry, masonry with bitumen, sunbaked bricks, glazing
    • Façade – colored stone, Terracotta panels, clay nails, adobe brick
  • The use of brick led to the development of pilasters and columns including tiles.
  • Decoration – Sculptured stones, three-dimensional figures, embroideries, and rugs.

Architectural Masterpieces in Mesopotamia

The earliest constructions were made from organic materials: Branches of trees, animal hides, and mud from the earth.

  • Ziggurats
  • Courtyard houses
  • Urban Planning
  • Babylonian Temples

Characteristics include

  • Mud bricks
  • Tripartite design, meaning plans organized around three rooms
  • Courtyards
  • Reed roofs


The Ziggurats – one of the important structures preserved in Mesopotamia.

The ziggurat in this city was surrounded by other public buildings, with all enclosed by a double wall. They were considered as a link between heaven and earth. These enormous structures were built by using millions of mud bricks. Built by Sumerian farmers, each Ziggurat temple complex was a part of a temple complex that included other buildings.

Image source – DEA PICTURE LIBRARY / Getty Images
Image source – Wikipedia

The walls of these massive structures were inward sloping with a series of platform steps. They use sun-dried bricks that were very strong but also porous. Another set of bricks was added for water-proofing that were fired in a kiln and then stacked on them, which also served as a protective layer. The buildings were raised to give protection from floods. The shape of the ziggurats was similar to mountains.

Urban Planning

One of the ancient Mesopotamian cities was the city of Babylon, which was planned thoughtfully. The city was protected by a wall that circled the entire perimeter. A typical city divided space into residential, mixed-use, commercial, and civic spaces. 

The city planning includes walls, high temples, and canals, The center core and nucleus include a high temple complex. The city included planning of roads and canals while the canals served as a means of goods transportation.

Architectural structures :

  • The palace
  • Tower of Babel
  • Ishtar Gate – a thirty-eight-foot tall gate at the entrance of the city with a vast anti-chamber on the southern side.
    • The gate is adorned with glazed blue bricks bearing yellow and white motifs of animals such as lions, bulls, dragons, and aurochs.
    • The processional way is a brick paved corridor way, which was a half mile long with high walls on each side.
Ishtar Gate: Image source worldhistory.org

Babylon temples

The temples and palaces used more advanced materials and techniques such as buttresses, recesses, and half columns. The walls of Babylon temples were colored and sometimes plated with zinc, or old. Painted terracotta cones were embedded in the plaster. The walls of palaces were sculptured on colored slabs of stone.

Many temples had inscriptions engraved into them. The plan of the temple was rectangular with the corners pointing in cardinal directions to symbolize the four rivers which flow from the mountain to the four world regions.

The temple was built on a low terrace with rammed earth and the plans were of T-shaped, tripartite, or combined plans.

  • Tripartite plan – large central hall with two smaller flanking halls on either side.
  • T-shaped plan – hall at one end of the rectangle perpendicular to the main hall.

Courtyard Houses

The materials used to construct houses were stone, wood, ashlar, mud brick, mud plaster, reeds, and wooden doors. Most of the houses were built with mud brick, mud plaster, and poplar. The houses could be Tripartite design, meaning plans organized around three rooms, round or rectangular with great variations for each house. Courtyards with central hallways were the main feature of Mesopotamian architecture. All the other rooms were opened into courtyards. These courtyards were surrounded by thick-walled halls.

  • Features – Courtyards, central hallways, storeys
  • Divisions of public and private spaces.
  • Few houses included shops, workshops, and storage rooms
  • Construction features
    • Bundles of reed were tied together and inserted into the ground.
    • Stone foundations
    • Mud bricks made from clay and chopped straw and sun-dried.
    • Planks of palm tree wood covered with reeds were used as roofs.
    • Doors were made of wood.

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