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    Survivals of sumerian types of architecture Essay

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    I.v connection with an archaeological survey in southern Babylonia made in January, February and March, 1926, for the American School of Oriental Research in Baghddd, the writer, while on leave of absence from Goucher College, had the privilege of studying types of ancient architecture laid bare by recent excavations. The struc tural remains at Tell cl-Obcid and Ur came under special observation and proved of the highest interest as examples of art in building among the Sumerians. During the same survey strongholds erected by Arabs and used by them at the present time were noted in various sections of the explored area. On account of certain similarities be tween the motifs of these edifices and the designs revealed on the walls of uncovered ruins, a basis of comparison exists which indicates a survival of some of the architectural forms of antiquit}’. If one starts from Ur in the southern part of  as Mesopotamia is now called, and proceeds northwest for about four miles, the slightly-elevated ddbris of Tell el-Obeid, small in extent, will be reached. Dr. II. R. Hall, of the British Museum, began the ex cavation of Tell el-Obeid in 1919 and made a number of important discoveries.1 The complete investigation of the archaeological material in this mound was accomplished by Mr. C. Leonard Woolley for the British Museum and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in a campaign which began the latter part of 1923. The main result was the disclosure of the platform of a temple built by A-an-ni-pad-da, king of Ur, son of Mes-an-ni-pad-da, king of Ur.

    This origin of the temple is known from an inscribed marble tablet which was found in its proximity.1 Mr. Woolley indicates the possibility that these ruins of a structure erected in the fourth millennium B.C. represent the oldest properly identified work of any royal builder. The main part of the solid platform consists of “brick-earth and mud brick.” Around almost the whole of the platform up to a height of a little more than five feet is a burnt-brick containing-wall. Except in its lower courses this wall is charac- terized by what Mr. Woolley calls “a series of shallow buttresses and recesses.”4 Figure 1 shows the style of decoration just described at  a point where a partially-preserved stairway protrudes.1 Such an architectural feature must have given a distinctively paneled ap pearance to the facades of the temple platform. The ziggurat at Ur was primarily a Sumerian temple tower of great nobility and simplicity in design. Its ruins were uncovered by Mr. Woolley during the season of excavation when Tell el-Obeid was investigated.2 Tho modern artist’s attempt at a restored pic ture based upon archaeological data gives one a glimpse of the prob able original glory of this ancient shrine.

    Even the part of it which has escaped the ravages of time, i.e., the lower stage with its three huge stairways , is ‘ the most inspiring of the ancient monu ments of ‘Ir&q.”4 Fortunately the remnant which has lasted to the present day goes back to Ur-Engur, a Sumerian king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, who reigned about the middle of the third millennium B.C.4 The four surfaces of this gigantic base, forming a rectangle 130 feet by 195 foot, are not perpendicular. There is a decided slant or slope, and the buttress or panel design of Tell el-Obeid is more skil fully executed ,6 indicating a definite advance in building art.  The ultimate comparison which this article seeks to set forth is between the ziggurat at Ur and modern Arab strongholds which exhibit sloping and paneled sides. However, intervening periods in the history of Mesopotamian architecture should be noted. At Ur the excavators uncovered a ‘‘Hall of Justice,” which belongs to the middle of the second millennium h.c. According to available pictorial representations its vertical sides were constructed with a pronounced use of recesses.1 Towards the middle of the first millennium B.C. Neo-Babylonian kings used broad shallow recesses on buildings with perpendicular walls. An example of this is the east front of the southern citadel at Babylon erected by Nebuchad rezzar II.

    Final, the temple of Ninmah at Babylon, Epatu tila,4 the temple of Ninib at Babylon, Frida,5 the temple of Nabil at Borsippa, the Anu-Adad temple at Ashur, built by Shalmaneser II, and the gates of the so-called observatory of Sargon’s palace at Khorsabdd7 exhibit the same method of breaking the monotony of exterior walls. During the Parthian period, ranging from the third century the third century a.d., a similar architectural decoration was used,  as is indicated by remains at Warka, Nippur3 and Hatra.4 Following in chronological order stands Ctesiphon,5 a magnificent Sassanian structure built alout a century later than Hatra. The facade of its great wall is covered by what Miss Gertrude L. Bell in 19(h) aptly described as “a shallow decoration of niches and engaged columns which is the final word in the Asiatic treatment of wall spaces, the end of the long history of artistic endeavour which began with the Babylonians and was quickened into fresh vigour by the Greeks.”6 Coming down to Mohammedan times, the outstanding  example is Ukhaidir, where niches similar to those at Ctesiphon survive.

    There arc no inscriptions at Ukhaidir contemporaneous with the origin of the building, and hence it is difficult to date tho ruin, but Miss Bell marshals considerable proof to show that it belongs to the eighth century a.d. and that it sprang from either late Um mayad or early Abbasid art.2 A well-known structure of the Abbasid period, which lasted until the thirteenth century a.d., is the castle of El-‘Ashiq at Samar ra. This building is decorated with rectangular recessed panels containing smaller arched niches. Since there is evidence that the method of wall decoration under consideration had continuous sequence in Mesopotamia from  Sumerian to Abbilsid times, one should not be surprised to find signs of its survival in existing Arab architecture in southern ‘Ir&q. This persistence of a motif of the builder’s art does not, stand by itself, but is paralleled by the preservation of other forms of Sumero-Baby- lonian culture, described by the writer in another publication.4 An examination of the accompanying pictures reveals the remarkable similarity between the decorative principle of the ziggurat. at Ur and that used in modern Arab buildings. Figure 4 shows an Arab stronghold of burnt bricks in a town along the Shatt elHai, which flows through the center of southern Babylonia. The lower part, of the gently sloping structure has beautifully executed recesses, while  the upper part presents a staged effect, with openings for repelling attack by firearms. Figure 5 shows a building of ordinary clay walls constructed along similar architectural linos. It is located to the southeast of the lower part of the Shatt el-Hai. The statement should be made that these buildings are unique in the towns where they exist. The rest of the habitations are ordinary reed or clay huts.

    When it Is remembered that tho ziggurat at Ur was un covered as recently as the 1923-24 campaign of excavation, the significance of these Arab buildings with sloping sides and recessed panels can be understood. The perfection of artistic design ex hibited by them cannot have been a sudden acquirement on the part  of modern Arab architects. The art must have continued in some form or other from the Abb&sid period to the present day. Thus a particular type of ornamentation on facades, gradually linking itself with other artistic forms, can be traced in the architec tural remains of the Tigris-Euphrates valley from the fourth millen nium B.C. to the first millennium a.d., well into the Mohammedan era, with evidence of its use in present Arab structures in southern ‘Iraq. Its purpose is accomplished by what writers describe as ‘ shallow buttresses,” “rectangular niches,” “horizontal zones,” or “recessed panels.” This simple symmetrical scheme for breaking up the exterior surfaces of buildings is carried out on sloping as well as vertical walls. There need lie no question as to the ultimate purpose of this mural unevenness in the finely designed perpendicular structures of the Babylonians anti Assyrians and their imitators, the Parthians, Sassanians and Mohammedans. For instance, the Assyrian archi  tect, in order to produce a contrast of light and shadow, divided the surface of a wall “into alternate compartments, the one salient, the next set back, and upon these compartments he ploughed the long lines of his decoration.”1 Hence we may conclude that the appar ent buttress of a paneled surface “had no object except to relieve the monotony of the structure.”2 One can hardly doubt that such a purpose was responsible for the decoration on the brick-work around the Sumerian temple platform at Tell el-Obeid, as the recesses are shallow in comparison with the thickness of the wall. With regard to the furrowed, sloping sides of ziggurats a different suggestion has been made.

    Handcock states that “the so-called ‘buttresses’ of the stage towers of Babylonia and Assyria are in the majority of cases water-conduits for draining the upper platforms.” Concerning the ziggurat at El-HibbaHilprccht writes, “Water was carried off by a canal of baked bricks, which at the same time served as a buttress for the lower story.” It is practically impossible to regard the recessed panels of the ziggurat at Ur as water-conduits, since there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the tops of the panels were closed, as those shown in Figure . On the other hand, the solidity of the basal section of the ziggurat seems to preclude the view that the slight projections of the sloping wall were designed simply to give added rigidity. The appeal which is made to the eye suggests that decorative purpose was present in the mind of the Sumerian architect. In the modern Arab survivals of this type of wall structure, depicted in Figures  and , the artistic motif is en tirely in the ascendancy, as is proven by the fact that the panels recede from the general surface of the walls, and hence cannot add to the durability of the buildings.

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