A History of Art in Chaldaea & Assyria Part 30

With the one exception of the staged tower at Khorsabad, we shall not attempt to give a single restoration in the proper sense of the word. Not that we mean to say that the different temple models given in our Plates II., III., and IV., and in our Fig. 173, are creations of our fancy. No one of the four pretends to reconstruct one famous building more than another.

They are abstract types, each representing, in its general features, one of the varieties into which Assyro-Chaldaean temples may be divided. The arrangements in which the originality of each type consists were only fixed by M. Chipiez after long researches. In each case he has taken for his point of departure either a Greek or Assyrian text, a sculptured relief, or facts gleaned by the examination of original sites; in most cases he has been able to supplement and correct the information gained from one of these sources by that from another. He has thus entered into the spirit of Mesopotamian architecture, and restored the chief forms it put on in its religious buildings according to time and district. He cannot say that all the details figured were found united, as they may be here, on a single building; but they are not inventions, no one of them is without authority, and the use to which they are put has been decided by the examination of actual remains. We may say the same of proportions. These are the result of study and of the collation of one ruin and one piece of evidence with another; they have not been taken from any single building. Finally there were certain details, such as the trace and elevation of the ramps, that were full of difficulty. M. Chipiez arrived at the solution finally adopted by an inductive process, by carefully weighing the obvious conditions of the problem and choosing those arrangements by which its requirements seemed most simply and conveniently met. In virtue of their general character M. Chipiez's restorations reach a high degree of probability.

They may be compared, if we may use the expression, to those triumphs of historical synthesis in which no attempt is made to narrate events as they occurred and in all their details, but in which a whole people lives, and the character of a whole century is summed up, in a picture whose every line and colour is borrowed from reality.[451]

In spite of their apparent variety, all the buildings we shall describe in the present chapter may be referred to a single fundamental type. They are each formed of several cubic masses superimposed one upon another and diminishing in volume in proportion to their height in the monument. We have already explained how such a system came to be adopted.[452] It was determined by the limitations of the only material at the architect's disposal, and it had at least this advantage, that it enabled him to relieve the monotony of the Chaldaean plains with artificial mountains whose vast size and boldness of line were calculated to impress the minds of the people, and to give them a great idea of their master's power and of the majesty of the deities in whose honour they were raised.

[Illustration: FIG. 168.--View of the Birs Nimroud; after Felix Thomas.]

Mesopotamia was covered, then, by buildings resembling a stepped pyramid in their general outlines. We find them in the reliefs (Fig. 10), and in the oldest cities we can frequently recognize the confused ruins of their two or three lower stories. Our only doubt is connected with the possible use of these buildings, the _zigguratts_ of the Assyrian texts. We shall not here stop to recapitulate the evidence in favour of their religious character; it will suffice to quote the description given by Herodotus of the temple of Bel or Belus at Babylon. As to whether the ruins of that building are to be identified with _Babil_ (Fig. 37) or the _Birs-Nimroud_ (Fig. 168) we shall inquire presently. This is the description of Herodotus:--

"In the other (fortress) was the sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus, a square inclosure two furlongs each way with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half way up one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned with a golden table by its side. There is no statue of any kind set up in the place nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman.... Below in the same precinct there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter all of gold ...

outside the temple are two altars."[453]

This description is, of course, very short; it omits many details that we should have wished to find in it; but like nearly all the descriptions of Herodotus it is very clear. The old historian saw well, and his mind retained what he saw. From his recital it is plain that this was the finest of the Babylonian temples, and that even when partly ruinous, under the successors of Alexander, its colossal dimensions were yet able to astonish foreign visitors. We may, then, take it as the type of the Chaldaean temple, as the finest religious building in the first city of Mesopotamia.

Nebuchadnezzar reconstructed it and made it higher and richer in its ornamentation than before, but he kept to the ancient foundations and made no change in the general character of the plan. In this single edifice were gathered up all the threads of a long tradition; it was, as it were, the supreme effort, the last word of the national art: and Herodotus declares plainly that it was a staged tower.

Such an assertion puts the matter beyond a doubt, and enables us to point to the staged tower as the form chosen by these people and made use of throughout their civilization for the buildings raised in honour of their gods. And having dismissed this fundamental question we have now to give a rapid description of the principal varieties of the type as they have been established by M. Chipiez. And as we go on we shall point out the authorities for each restoration; whether the ruins themselves, the inscribed texts, or the sculptured reliefs.

[Illustration: FIGS. 169-171.--Longitudinal section, plan and horizontal section of the rectangular type of Chaldaean temple.]

In the first line we must place the RECTANGULAR CHALDaeAN TEMPLE (Plate II.

and Figs. 169, 170, and 171). We have put it first because the remains from which it has been reconstructed have all been found in Lower Chaldaea, that is, amongst the oldest of the Chaldaean cities. As we learn from the texts, these temples were repaired under the last kings of Babylon, and it was their antiquity that made them dear both to the people and their kings. We may believe, therefore, that in restoring them care was taken to preserve their ancient features. It would be the upper part of their retaining walls that required renewal, and these would be rebuilt on their ancient foundations. Here and there the latter exist even at the present day, and the names of the earliest Chaldaean princes may be read upon their bricks.[454]


Restored by Ch. Chipiez.]

The remains studied by Messrs. Taylor and Loftus at Warka (Fig. 172), Abou-Sharein, and Mugheir have furnished the chief elements for our restoration, which bears a strong resemblance to the ruin at Warka called Bouvariia (A on the map), and one still stronger to that temple at Mugheir whose present state is shown in our Figs. 48 and 143. This first type is characterized by the form of its lower, and the situation of its upper, stages. The latter are not placed in the centre of the platform on which they stand; they are thrown back much nearer to one of the two shorter sides than to the other, so that the building has a front and a back. The front is almost entirely taken up with wide staircases.[455] The staircase leading from the first story to the second must alone have been concealed in the interior of the building, an arrangement which avoided the necessity for breaking up the ample solidity of that imposing stage (see Plate II.).

[Illustration: FIG. 172.--Map of Warka with its ruins; from Loftus.

A, Bouvariia; B, Wuswas; C, ruin from the Parthian epoch; D, building decorated with coloured cones (see page 279).]

The surroundings of the temple in our plate--the background of slightly undulating plain, the houses similar to those found by Taylor and Loftus, in which they discovered vaulted passages traversing the thickness of the walls[456]--are, of course, purely imaginary.

The temple itself, like the palace at Khorsabad, was raised on a vast platform upon which the city walls abutted. This platform was reached by wide flights of steps.[457] Lateral ramps led to a second platform, inclosed on every side, with which the sacred part of the building, the Haram, began. We have already spoken of the panelled ornament with which the great, flat surfaces of its walls were relieved.[458] The lowest stage of the temple was provided with buttresses like those that still exist in the temple of Mugheir (Fig. 43). A high, rectangular plinth--decorated in our restoration with glazed faence[459]--was interposed between the first and second stage.[460] A rectangular chapel decorated, in all probability, with metal plaques and glazed polychromatic bricks, crowned the whole.

Traces of this chapel have been found at Mugheir, and the wealth of its decoration is attested by many pieces of evidence.[461] At Abou-Sharein also there are vestiges of a small and richly ornamented sanctuary crowning the second stage of a ruin whose aspect now bears a distinct resemblance to that of the temple at Mugheir. The triple row of crenellations we have given to this sanctuary or chapel was suggested by the altars and obelisks (Fig. 107 and 111). Here, as at Nineveh, these battlements must have been the one universal finish to the walls. The use to which we have put them is quite in harmony with the spirit of Mesopotamian architecture, but there is no direct evidence of their presence in these buildings. In this particular our restoration is conjectural.

A glance at our longitudinal section (Fig. 169) will show that we have left the main body of this great mass of sun-dried brick absolutely solid. It was in vain that, at Mugheir, trenches and shafts were cut through the flanks of the ruin, not a sign of any apartment or void of the most elementary kind was found.[462]

This Mugheir temple rises hardly more than fifty feet above the level of the plain. The restoration by M. Chipiez, for which it furnished the elements, shows a height of 135 feet; judging from the proportions of its remains the building can hardly have been higher than that. But it is certain that many temples reached a far greater height, otherwise their size could not have made any great impression upon travellers who had seen the Egyptian pyramids. Even now the Birs-Nimroud, which has been undergoing for so many centuries a continual process of diminution, rises no less than 235 feet above the surrounding country,[463] and Strabo, the only Greek author who says anything precise as to the height of the greatest of the Babylonian monuments, writes thus: "This monument, which was, they say, overthrown by Xerxes, was a square pyramid of burnt brick, one stade (606-3/4 feet) high, and one stade in diameter."[464]

The arrangement by which such a height could be most easily reached would be the superposition of square masses one upon another, each mass being centrally placed on the upper surface of the one below it. The weight would be more equally divided and the risks of settlement more slight than in any other system. Of this type M. Chipiez has restored two varieties. We shall first describe the simpler of the two, which we may call the SQUARE SINGLE-RAMPED CHALDaeAN TEMPLE (Figs. 173, 174, 175, 176).

The principal elements for this restoration have been taken from the staged tower at Khorsabad known as the _Observatory_, but M. Chipiez has expanded its dimensions until they almost reach those ascribed to the temple of Bel by Strabo. Moreover, he had to decide a delicate question which the discovery of the Khorsabad _Observatory_, where only the four lower stages remained, had done nothing to solve, namely the plan and inclination of the ramp. In M. Thomas's restoration of the Khorsabad tower, the last section of the ramp at the top, is parallel to that at the bottom, and the crowning platform is not exactly upon the central axis of the building.[465] In M.

Chipiez's restoration the top platform is in the centre, like those below it, and the upper end of his ramp is vertically over the spot where it leaves the ground. This result has been obtained by a peculiar arrangement of the inclined plane which must have been known to the Mesopotamian architects, seeing how great was their practice and how desirable, in their eyes, was the symmetrical aspect which it alone could give. We have suggested the varied colours of the different stages by changes of tone in our engraving. In spite of the words of Herodotus M. Chipiez has only given his tower seven stages, because that number seems to have been sacred and traditional, and Herodotus may very well have counted the plinth or the terminal chapel in the eight mentioned in his description. Bearing in mind a passage in Diodorus--"At the summit Semiramis placed three statues of beaten gold, Zeus, Hera, and Rhea"[466]--we have crowned its apex with such a group. The phrase of Herodotus, "Below ... there is a second temple," has led us to introduce chapels contrived in the interior of the mass and opening on the ramp at the fifth and sixth stories. There is nothing to forbid the idea that such chambers were much more numerous than this, and opened, sometimes on one, sometimes on another, of the four faces.

[Illustration: FIG. 173.--Type of square, single-ramped Chaldaean temple.

Compiled by Ch. Chipiez.]

The buildings at the lower part of our engraving are imaginary, but they are by no means improbable. Among them may be distinguished the wide flights of steps and inclined planes by which the platform on which the temple stood was reached.[467] At the foot of the temple on the right of the engraving there is a palace, on the left two obelisk-shaped steles and a small temple of a type to be presently described. Behind the tower stretch away the waters of a lake. Nebuchadnezzar, in one of his inscriptions, speaks of surrounding the temple he had built with a lake.

[Illustration: FIGS. 174-176.--Transverse section, plan, and horizontal section of a square, single-ramped, Chaldaean Temple.]

[Illustration: FIGS. 177-179.--Transverse section, plan, and horizontal section of a square, double-ramped Chaldaean Temple.]

In seeking to vary the effect produced by these external ramps, the idea of a more complicated arrangement than the one last noticed may have occurred to the Chaldees. This M. Chipiez has embodied in his restoration of a SQUARE DOUBLE-RAMPED CHALDaeAN TEMPLE (Plate III. and Figs. 177, 178, and 179). As in the last model, there are seven stages, each stage being square on plan, but the difference consists in the use of two ramps leading from base to summit. Each of these keeps to its own side of the building, only approaching the other on the front and back facades at the fourth, fifth, and sixth stages (see Plate III). In order that the building as a whole should have a symmetrical and monumental appearance, it was necessary that all its seven stages--with the exception of the first, to which a rather different _role_ was assigned--should be of equal height. But their length and width differed in proportion to their height in the building. The continual shortening of the distance within which the incline had to be packed, would, if we suppose each ramp confined to one side of the tower, have required the slope to become steeper with each story. Such a want of parallelism would have been very ugly, and there was but one means of avoiding it, and that was to continue the ramps nearly to the centre of the front at the fourth and sixth stages, and to the centre of the posterior facade at the fifth. The advantages of such an arrangement are obvious.

Banished mostly to the flanks the double ramp left four stages clear both at front and back, providing an ample promenade. On the other three it showed itself just sufficiently to "furnish" the building and diversify its aspect without in any way encumbering it. The whole structure terminated in a chapel placed on the central axis of the tower, and surmounted by a cupola. The inscriptions mention the dome covered with leaves of chiselled gold which crowned at Babylon that temple "to the foundations of the earth"

which was restored by Nebuchadnezzar.[468]


Restored by Ch. Chipiez.]

In these texts another sanctuary included in the same building and placed half way between the base and summit is mentioned. This was the sepulchral chamber of Bel-Merodach in which his oracle was consulted; in M. Chipiez's restoration the entrance to this sanctuary is placed in the middle of the fifth story.

The vast esplanade about the base of the temple was suggested by the description of Herodotus. It is borne by two colossal plinths flanked and retained by buttresses. In our plate the lower of these two plinths is only hinted at in the two bottom corners. In the distance behind the temple itself may be seen one of those embattled walls which divided Babylon into so many fortresses, and, still farther away, another group of large buildings surrounded by a wall and the ordinary houses of the city.

This double-ramped type is at once the most beautiful and the most workmanlike of those offered by these staged towers. With a single ramp we get a tower whose four faces are repetitions of each other, but here we have a true facade, on which a happy contrast is established between the unbroken stages and those upon which the ramps appear--between oblique lines and lines parallel with the soil. The building gains in repose and solidity, and its true scale becomes more evident than when the eye is led insensibly from base to summit by a monotonous spiral.

[Illustration: FIGS. 180-182.--Square Assyrian temple. Longitudinal section, horizontal section and plan.]

We cannot positively affirm that the architects of Mesopotamia understood and made use of the system just described; there is no positive evidence on the point.[469] It contains, however, nothing but a logical development from the premises, nothing but what is in perfect keeping with Mesopotamian habits, nothing that involves difficulties of execution or construction beyond those over which we know them to have triumphed. Besides, we have proofs that they were not content to go on servilely reproducing one and the same type for twenty centuries; their temples were not all shaped in the same mould. The type of the Mugheir temple differed sensibly from that of the Khorsabad _Observatory_. One of the Kouyundjik sculptures reveals a curious variant of the traditional theme, so far as Assyria was concerned, in an arrangement of the staged tower that we should never have suspected but for the survival of this relief (Fig. 34). The picture in question is no doubt very much abridged and far from true to the proportions of the original, but yet it has furnished M. Chipiez with the elements of a restoration in which conjecture has had very little to say. This we have called the SQUARE ASSYRIAN TEMPLE (see Plate IV. and Figs. 180-182).


Restored by Ch. Chipiez.]

According to the relief the tower itself rises upon a dome-shaped mound in front of which there are a large doorway and two curved ramps. From all that we know of Assyrian buildings of this kind we may be sure that the original of the picture was so placed. The form of the mound may be described as reproducing the extrados of a depressed arch. This is the only form on which flights of steps with a curve similar to that here shown could be constructed. The design of the steps in our plate corresponds exactly to that indicated more roughly by the sculptor; no other means of affording convenient access to the base of the tower--at least outside the mound--could have been contrived. Two doors were pierced at the head of the steps through the large panels with which the lower stage of the tower itself was decorated, and from that point, so far as we can tell from the relief, the ascent was continued by means of internal staircases. The sculptor has only shown three stages, but--unless the absence of anything above has been caused by the mutilation of the slab--we may suppose that he has voluntarily suppressed a fourth.[470] In any case the third story is too large to have formed the apex of the tower. The general proportions suggest at least one more stage for the support of the usual chapel. The latter we have restored as a timber structure covered with metal plates, skins, or coloured planks. The three stages immediately below the chapel we have decorated with painted imitations of panels, carried out either in fresco or glazed brick. As for the internal arrangements we know very little. The great doorway with which the mound itself is prefaced in the relief must have led to some apartment worthy of its size and importance; we have therefore pierced the mass in our section with a suite of several chambers. At the second story another doorway occurs; it is much smaller and more simple, and the chamber to which it led must have been comparatively unimportant. In our Fig. 180 it is restored as the approach to the internal staircase.

In order to vary the framework of our restorations and to show Assyrian architecture in as many aspects as possible, we have placed this temple within a fortified wall, like that of Khorsabad. Within a kind of bastion towards the left of the plate we have introduced one of those small temples of which remains have been found at Khorsabad and Nimroud. The walls of the town form a continuation of those about the temple. In front of the principal entrance to the sacred inclosure we have set up a commemorative stele.

Aided by these restorations we hope to have given a clearer and more vivid idea of Chaldaean art than if we had confined ourselves to describing the scanty remains of their religious buildings. We have now to give a rapid review of those existing ruins whose former purposes and arrangements may still to a certain extent be traced.


[451] These restorations of the principal types of Chaldaean temples were exhibited by M. CHIPIEZ in the Salon of 1879, under the title _Tours a etages de la Chaldee et de l'Assyrie_.

[452] Chapter II. -- 2.

[453] HERODOTUS, i, 181-3, Rawlinson's version. By Jupiter, or rather Zeus, we must understand Bel-Merodach. Diodorus calls the god of the temple Zeus Belus.

[454] LOFTUS, _Travels_, &c., p. 131. See also TAYLOR's papers in vol. xv.

of the _Royal Asiatic Society's Journal_.

[455] LOFTUS, (p. 129). "It rather struck me, however, from the gradual inclination from top to base, that a grand staircase of the same width as the upper story, occupied this side of the structure."

Chapter end

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