Lying in the arid Iranian desert in the province of Khuzestan is an odd structure that dates back well over 3000 years ago. It’s name, Chogha Zanbil, means “basket mound,” a name that does nothing to describe the site’s importance long ago. Far from having anything to do with baskets, Chogha Zanbil was a lofty ziggurat – stepped tower-temple – built by the Elamite king Untash-Napirisha in the 13th century BCE. It is one of the few such temples to be found outside of Mesopotamia.
The ziggurat of Chogha Zanbil, known in ancient times as Dur Untash, was actually dedicated to two Elamite gods, Inshushinak of Susa and Napirisha of Anshan (these were the two capitals of the Elamite civilization). It was built in stages, the first part being the construction of a large 100 square meter walled courtyard with two sanctuaries for storing religious objects within it. The next stage took place a few years later and was more of a renovation than addition. For whatever reason, Untash-Napirisha decided to breakup the courtyard and use it as the foundation for a new ziggurat. His builders added three stories made mud-bricks covered with glittering turquoise terra-cotta designs. Inside was a staircase that led to the top of the ziggurat and was decorated with intricate glass and ivory mosaics.
The building must have been quite a site for all who visited. It appears that the Chogha Zanbil was in a state of constant construction and expansion until the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal raided the complex during his conquest of Elam and Susa in 640 BCE.
Today, the ruins of the this once majestic structure are all that’s left.
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