West Asian architecture – Ancient Mesopotamian architecture

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The Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon, built during the Neo-Babylonian period (600s BC). Now in Berlin. Mesopotamian architecture

Mesopotamian architecture: The Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon, built during the Neo-Babylonian period (600s BC). Now in Berlin.

Mesopotamian architecture

Builders in Mesopotamia 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 used to building in brick. So even buildings which are built of stone often look like they are made of brick.

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

Remains of the ziggurat at Warka, in Iraq, 3000 BC

Mesopotamian architecture: Remains of the ziggurat at Warka, in Iraq, 3000 BC

Sumerian ziggurats

The Sumerians, about 3500 BC, 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. Recent excavations show that people in southern Iran were building big ziggurats about the same time, and maybe even earlier.

Assyrian palaces

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.

Darius' palace at Persepolis

West Asian architecture: Darius’ palace at Persepolis in Iran

When the Babylonians threw out the Assyrians, about 600 BC, there was a 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.

Architecture in the Persian Empire

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, in Iran) 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. Persepolis had a big hall full of columns, like a giant tent held up by tent poles.

Alexander the Great and Hellenistic architecture

Greek theater at Bosra in Syria

Greek theater at Bosra in Syria

Eventually Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 331 BC. His successors brought in lots of Greek architects, and they built lots of  Greek temples and theaters and gymnasia all over West Asia and even into India in the Hellenistic period.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about Mesopotamian architecture and West Asian architecture? Let us know in the comments!

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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By |2018-04-13T12:56:00+00:00September 11th, 2017|Architecture, West Asia|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. West Asian architecture – Ancient Mesopotamian architecture. Quatr.us Study Guides, September 11, 2017. Web. December 17, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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