Chogha Zanbil Archaeological Site

Chogha Zanbil Archaeological Site

Location: 42 km  (26 mi) Southwest of Dezful, Khūzestān Province  Map

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Description of Chogha Zanbil Archaeological Site

Chogha Zanbil Archaeological Site is an ancient archeological Elamite site situated 42 km  (26 mi) Southwest of Dezful, Khūzestān Province.  The name of Chogha Zanbil Archaeological Site means "basket mount" after a huge ziggurat that was constructed around 1250 BC by Elamite king Untash- Napirisha. This religious complex was devoted to god Inshushinak, protecting deity of Elamite city of Susa. The whole complex was surrounded by a wall. Unlike other towns it had few residents despite its size. It was more of a religious shrine inhabited by priests, their servants and guards of the temple. The site was destroyed during Assyrian invasion. Their king Ashurbanipal laid Chogha Zanbil to ruins in 640 BC. It was abandoned and fell in disrepair. It was the first historic site in Iran to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.



The complex was built around 1250 BC. King of Elam Untash-Napirishoy in honor of the great god Inshushinak. Initially, the city was called Dur-Untash (city of Untash), in all likelihood, it was not actively populated. The modern name Chogha-Zanbil is translated from Persian as "hill" or "hill-basket", which corresponds to the shape of the ziggurat.

Scientists suggest that King Untash-Napirisha wanted to create here the main religious center for the gods of upper and lower Elam instead of Susa. Three concentric walls were erected around the city, inside of which was the city proper. A large ziggurat in the inner city was dedicated to the main deity, the ziggurat was built on the site of a large flat area. In the center there are 11 temples of minor deities. It was planned to build 22 temples, but construction was stopped after the death of the king.

The outer parts of the city house the royal palace and royal tombs. According to archaeologists, one of the palaces was intended for the king himself, and the other for the harem. The palaces were majestic structures comparable in size to a ziggurat. Under the buildings, stone stairs were found leading to cellars six meters deep, intended for the royal tomb.

Clay bricks were used to build the ziggurat. Raw clay was used for their manufacture, sometimes burnt bricks are found. On many bricks there are inscriptions praising the deeds of Untash-Napirish. The builders lined the facades with decorated gypsum boards and glazed bricks. For this purpose, special ovens built near the temples were used. By the way, bricks found by archaeologists around the ziggurat are used for the restoration of the complex. The city was supplied with water by a canal 50 kilometers long, laid from the Kerkhe River. Water reached the inhabitants through a system of communicating reservoirs. Thus, the city, built in the desert, had enough water for drinking, agriculture and cattle breeding.

Chogha-Zanbil or Dur-Untash (city of Untash) is an ancient religious settlement built during the revival and prosperity of the state of Elam. The city, even before the interruption of the Elamite royal dynasty, was attacked by enemies and lost its former significance. Therefore, everything that is in this settlement arose as a result of the creativity and talents of the people of Elam.

This wide hillock was chosen by Untash-Napirisha to found a settlement, which was to become a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of Elam. Moreover, the art of Elam during this ruler reached unprecedented heights and created magnificent works, and all this splendor was used in construction work. The bulk of the work on the construction of Chogha-Zanbil was carried out during the lifetime of Untash-Napirish himself, subsequent rulers made a smaller contribution to the construction of the city. The king and his courtiers at that time arrived in the city only for holidays and for large religious ceremonies.

The city is built on the banks of the river, and its location is chosen in such a way that it rises above the entire plateau. The city was built in such a way that on its eastern side there is a river, and opposite a mountain range, and thanks to these large and insurmountable barriers it was safe. This city was located inside three brick fortress walls that formed concentric circles. In the center of the city there was a “t-n-s” or sacred quarter, which was surrounded by a wall, forming a territory in the form of a quadrangle, each side of which exceeded 400 m. In the middle of this quarter, you can see the remains of a huge and powerful ziggurat. During the construction of Choga-Zanbil, three types of bricks were used: unburnt brick, burnt brick, unburnt brick mixed with fired broken or crushed brick. The ziggurat is completely built of unbaked brick and faced with baked brick, the layer of which is 2 m thick. Every 10 rows of simple brickwork there is a row with inscriptions in Elamite script, which say that Untash-Napirisha dedicated this building to the deity Inshushinak. The ziggurat is built in the form of a stepped structure, each of its floors rests on the lower floor, and its size is smaller than the size of the lower one. The building probably had five floors.

Located outside the ziggurat, a massive staircase connected the lower floors with the upper ones. The central building was surrounded by a wall with 7 gates. In the space between the wall surrounding the ziggurat and the wide wall built around this sacred city, there were other buildings, including: underground tombs built for the royal family, temple buildings and other smaller buildings around the central building of the ziggurat and in the territory of the side courts for other Elamite gods, including Humpan, Khishmitik, Ruhuratir, four pairs of goddesses under the common name "Napratep" (goddesses who give food), Pinikir - the ancient mother goddess Susa, and others. The entrance to the Elamite sanctuary was guarded by statues of lions, bulls and dogs.


On the territory of the city, there was an interesting building for purifying the water that the townspeople drank, created using advanced methodology.

The city continued to exist until the Assyrian conquest, it was destroyed by King Ashurbanipal in 640 BC.

Thanks to the shards of pottery left in the city, we can say that the city was captured by the Achaemenids, and during the time of the Arsacids, the city was also conquered by nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists. In the 17th century, a small residence was built on this site by the local ruler.


Archaeological excavations

Dur-Untash was discovered by accident during the exploration of oil fields. In 1935, a British company carried out aerial photography of places near the ziggurat. The photographs showed the walls in the form of concentric circles and the outlines of buildings with a large structure in the middle. After the discovery of two clay bricks covered with inscriptions, it became clear that the building is an ancient Elamite sanctuary, built by the Elamite ruler Untash-Napirish (1245-1265 BC). In AH 1325 (1946 CE), Professor Roman Girshman continued the excavations begun by Count Roland de Mekvenem, fully excavating the Chogha Zanbil structure.

Archaeological excavations from 1951 to 1962 yielded many finds. The ziggurat is considered to be the best preserved of all ziggurats in the world. In 1979, Chogha Zanbil became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iran.