What is Chogha Zanbil?

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Chogha Zanbil, a well-preserved ziggurat in Iran, was built in the 13th century BC as a resting place for the god Inshushinak. The complex includes eleven minor temples and a royal palace.

Chogha Zanbil is a huge ziggurat located in Iran. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1979. The site is over three thousand years old and is in remarkably good condition. It is also one of the few ziggurats built outside Mesopotamia.

Ziggurats were built by a number of peoples who inhabited Mesopotamia, including the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians, all of whom built huge examples. The oldest ziggurats date from the 4th millennium BC and were not built again after about the 6th century BC. In that three thousand year time frame, more than thirty known ziggurats were built and Chogha Zanbil is one of the greatest examples of its kind and the largest in modern Iran.

The ziggurats were not built as temples in the traditional sense, as they were not meant for the residence or rituals of the priests. Instead, a ziggurat was seen as a resting place for the gods. By building a ziggurat near a large city, rulers could ensure that the gods stayed close, offering their aid in battle and keeping the crops growing. Ziggurats were essentially large pyramids, with anywhere from three to seven stories. The ziggurats were closed to all except the priests of these Mesopotamian societies, who made offerings in a shrine that sat atop the ziggurat.

Chogha Zanbil is one of the most intact ziggurats left in the world and as such offers an excellent opportunity to see this fascinating piece of history from thousands of years ago. Chogha Zanbil was built in the 13th century BC by King Untash-Napirisha. The ziggurat was built as a dwelling for Inshushinak, one of the three leading Elamites. Inshushinak was also known as the father of the week and was considered a wise and generous god, who judged the dead in the underworld together with the goddess Lagamal.

Inshushinak was also known as the Lord of Susa, where his main temple was located. Some people believe that Untash-Napirisha built Chogha Zanbil in an attempt to transform the region into a new religious center, taking over from Susa. The grand project was abandoned, however, on the death of Untash-Napirisha, although Chogha Zanbil continued to be occupied and used until the 7th century BC when it was damaged by the Assyrians.

The entire Chogha Zanbil complex contains eleven minor temples, as well as the Inshushinak ziggurat, a royal palace, various tombs, and a three-tiered wall guarding the area. Originally it seems that the complex was intended to house as many as twenty-two temples, each dedicated to a different minor god of the Elamites. Due to the breadth of gods represented, it is possible that Untash-Napirisha intended Chogha Zanbil to help unite the highland and lowland religions in Elam.

The ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil has five stories, and although it has collapsed over the years due to wind, water and previous attacks, it is still remarkably preserved. The entire form can still be seen quite clearly from afar, the inscriptions are still found on many of the stones, the brick water channels are still fully intact, and some sculpted visuals still lie in situ.

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