West Asian Architecture - Ancient Mesopotamia
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West Asian Architecture

Ishtar Gate
Ishtar Gate of Babylon (now in Berlin)

Builders in West Asia always had a serious problem - there was not enough stone or wood. But there was lots and lots of clay. So their buildings were usually built of brick, or mud-brick. West Asian builders got so used to building in brick, that even buildings which are built of stone often look like they are made of brick.

Another thing which made West Asian people build a certain way is the constant arrival of nomadic people into the area: the Persians, the Parthians, the Arabs. All of these people were used to living and entertaining in tents, and they built their houses and palaces kind of like tents, so they would feel at home.

Ziggurat at Ur
Ziggurat at Ur

The Sumerians, about 3000 BC, were the first people to build big buildings in West Asia: they built ziggurats, or towers made of clay bricks, with temples to the gods on top of them. They also built city walls out of bricks (But recent excavations seem to show that people in southern Iran were building big ziggurats about the same time, and maybe even earlier).

The Assyrians, about 1000 BC, did not build ziggurats anymore, but they built themselves great palaces out of limestone. And city walls, still out of bricks.

When the Babylonians threw out the Assyrians, about 600 BC, there was a sort of revival of old pre-Assyrian ideas, which showed up in building clay brick buildings again, like the famous Ishtar Gate at the top of this page.


But soon after that the Persians conquered West Asia (in 539 BC). These nomads did not build anything at all for some time, but when they did decide to build a palace at Persepolis (the city of the Persians) they hired the best workers from all over West Asia and the Mediterranean to work on it. Some of the men who worked on it were Greek.

Greek theater at Bosra in Syria

The Persians were eventually defeated by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, which led to a great many Greek temples and theaters and gymnasia being built all over West Asia and even into India in the Hellenistic period.

Learn by doing: Assyrian palaces project
Parthian architecture in West Asia

Bibliography and further reading about Assyrian architecture:

More about West Asia
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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