ANCIENT GRID CITIES
Among food in Mesopotamia, the rivers provided reeds and clay, which allowed the experimentation with new building techniques, and the development of the city as a unit for shared resources. The Mesopotamians were a highly advanced society, so proud of their achievements as introduced in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This early surviving works of literature, opens with a descriptive portrayal of the Sumerian city of Uruk. It describes its impressive gateways, streets, markets, monumental buildings and lush gardens. The order and status of the Mesopotamian city shows it takes more than courage, muscle power and pure luck to create a successful civilisation. They taught us how building a prosperous civilisation requires a solid political and economic structure, backed by patience and the vision of leadership with grandiose ideas. Out of the world’s greatest civilisations, nothing contributed more to human progress than ancient Mesopotamia. The ancient Mesopotamians are known as highly innovative people, creating many of the technologies still used by us today. They invented cuneiform; the very first form of writing on clay tablets. They thought of the wheel as a way of transporting heavy loads across greater distances and were among the first to harness wind power as an energy source by using the sail. They managed to create daggers, spears and chariots, which led them to become the most feared warriors of the ancient world. In addition to inventing the seeder plough, which revolutionised agriculture by carrying out the simultaneous tasks of seeding and ploughing, together with advances in mathematics, astronomy, politics and economy. Mesopotamians were also deeply spiritual and regarded ‘the craft of building’ a divine art inherited by noble men from the gods.
Hence why at the heart of their city stood the most distinctive and most dramatic architecture, the ziggurat or the Tower of Babel. This stepped pyramid was dedicated to their religious ceremonies and the deities they worshiped. The high temple predated the establishment of the city and is the nucleus around which the urban settlement grew. Ancient Mesopotamians used their temples as vantage points, from which they studied the astronomical movement of stars and planets and used that knowledge to predict the destiny of their civilisation. The Greek historian Herodotus visited the city one hundred years after the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian Empire, who is credited with the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in 600 BC. He describes a vast metropolis budding with life, with streets sixteen-meter-wide, walls twenty-five-meter-thick, and residential districts stretching for nearly one hundred kilometres. Later, his account was challenged by scholars as inaccurate and most likely exaggerated. Nevertheless, the largest known archaeological site and urban centre of Mesopotamia is the city of Babylon. It is an Akkadian city state, which became a powerful kingdom in the ancient world, and an important site for the study of the Mesopotamian Civilisation. Travellers to the city were met by eight gates. The most impressive was ‘Ishtar Gate’, dedicated to their goddess of fertility, war and love.
The gate was constructed using deep blue glazed bricks. It was clad in over 20,000 outer bricks, using ingredients not readily available in Babylon, which had to be imported from the other side of the empire. With such a remarkable history, the progress the Mesopotamians accomplished in advancing technologies can only be admired. Inside their city, behind the fortified gates lay a wide ceremonial processional road used during the religious festivals the nation hosted every year. And the city was an unequivocal radial metropolis, built as a gigantic fortress with military command and precision. A stone bridge connected the two parts of Babylon separated by the Euphrates. Municipalities grew around straight roads, which cut through them at ninety degrees. Buildings and houses were connected by an intricate labyrinth of narrow corridors, that offer a natural shelter from the region’s sweltering sun. Traditionally, key monuments and houses belonging to the affluent Amelu class, were situated at the heart of the city and connected by causeways to a belt of irrigated agricultural land. The directional orientation of temples was important, as they were constructed true to the Mesopotamian interpretation of the orbits of the heavenly bodies. They regarded the celestial bodies as gods and believed the systematic movement of indefinable forces in the heavens above, directly influenced the quality of their lives on Earth. Buildings of lesser importance belonging to the nobles of the Mushkinu class, like humble temples and small shrines, were located on the outer fringes of the city. Sun-dried bricks were the predominant building material, made from mud deposited by the river banks, as with wood, reed and the natural ingredients needed for adobe. Unfortunately, mud is not an enduring material and buildings had to be constantly demolished and rebuilt again.