The archaeological site of Chogha Zanbil covers a vast, arid plateau overlooking the rich valley of the river Ab-e Diz and its forests. A “sacred city” for the king’s residence, it was never completed and only a few priests lived there until it was destroyed by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal about 640 BCE. The complex was protected by three concentric enclosure walls: an outer wall about 4 km in circumference enclosing a vast complex of residences and the royal quarter, where three monumental palaces have been unearthed (one is considered a tomb-palace that covers the remains of underground baked-brick structures containing the burials of the royal family); a second wall protecting the temples (Temenus); and the innermost wall enclosing the focal point of the ensemble, the ziggurat.
The ziggurat originally measured 105.2 m on each side and about 53 m in height, in five levels, and was crowned with a temple. Mud brick was the basic material of the whole ensemble. The ziggurat was given a facing of baked bricks, a number of which have cuneiform characters giving the names of deities in the Elamite and Akkadian languages. Though the ziggurat now stands only 24.75 m high, less than half its estimated original height, its state of preservation is unsurpassed. Studies of the ziggurat and the rest of the archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil containing other temples, residences, tomb-palaces, and water reservoirs have made an important contribution to our knowledge about the architecture of this period of the Elamites, whose ancient culture persisted into the emerging Achaemenid (First Persian) Empire, which changed the face of the civilised world at that time.
Ziggurat a tower consisting of several stages, on whose uppermost platform existed in all probability a high
temple. the high temple is not separate from the ziggurat, and the entire ziggurat should be understood as a raised temple. In Iran there are Ziggurats as well as monumental buildings which exhibit similar functions, but it is unclear whether the Ziggurat influenced the development of the monumental buildings, or vice versa. The monumental buildings have terraces or platforms, which possibly served as foundations for a Ziggurat or a similar high temple.
The history of the monumental buildings in Iran can be divided into two phases. The first phase of ziggurat-like structures und platforms dates to the Early and Middle Bronze Age (between the end of the 4th millennium and the 3rd millennium BCE ). Slightly smaller monumental platforms which possibly served as substructures for high temples were erected in the Iron Age (between the end of the 2nd and the first half of the 1st millennium BCE), and constitute their second phase.
Heaven and earth, the earth and the underworld, and a horizontal bond between the lands.
While their actual function still remains obscure, it has been suggested that ziggurats symbolized the primeval mound which the universe was thought to have been created upon, heavenly mountains, bridges between heaven and earth or celestial stairways between the gods and humans.
Mesopotamians considered mud to be the purest of substances; therefore, it was employed in the construction of these stepped structures which ascended toward heaven, bringing man closer to the gods and facilitating his worship.
Considered the temporal dwelling of a deity or the meeting place of gods and humans, ziggurats had a high temple, a low temple and no internal chambers. They were not used as places for performing public religious rites and rituals, but rather as the earthly house of god.
The historical monuments of the archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil are authentic in terms of their forms and design, materials and substance, and locations and setting. Several conservation measures have been undertaken since the original excavations of the site between 1946 and 1962, but they have not usually disturbed its historical authenticity.
In the Bible, Daniel’s claim to fame was surviving the lions’ den in Babylon, though there’s no mention of his burial. The first accounts placing his remains in Susa (Shush) pop up around the 12th century, and proximity to the relics was thought to bring health and good fortune. With an influx of lucrative pilgrims, this caused jealousy on the part of the less fortunate on the other side of the river, so the grave was shunted back and forth between the two sides on alternate years. Eventually someone decided to lash it to the bridge in between.
You need to be a tomb junkie or have an animated guide to get the most out of this dusty, partially excavated Elamite burial site. In stark contrast, the nearby, tiny Unesco-sponsored museum, sitting oasis-like among palms and tended gardens, is definitely worth a look, and not only for its delicious air-con. The small room contains interesting artefacts, local fertility figurines, skeletons in ‘burial muffins’, and a model of Chogha Zanbil, with detailed documentation of its discovery and subsequent restoration.
Haft Tappeh is 3km off the Ahvaz–Andimeshk Hwy, and 18km south of Shush. It’s usually the first stop when heading to the more visually stimulating Choqa Zanbil. Beyond the museum, cross the Ahvaz–Andimeshk train tracks, then turn right and follow the 1km short cut south to the Choqa Zanbil road. Or jump on a train back to Shush (15 minutes).