The gate into Babylon and the royal processional way was decorated with hybrid creatures.
An artist's reconstruction, depicting a royal procession moving along Marduk's way, through the Ishtar gate, and turning into the courtyard of Nebuchadrezzar's palace which lies behind the lush growth of the famous hanging gardens. In the distance, the ziggurat of Marduk can be seen.
What impression the magnificent city of Babylon made upon the exiles can only be imagined. Nebuchadrezzar had made Babylon into one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This great metropolis straddled the Euphrates and was surrounded by a moat and huge walls 85 feet thick with massive reinforcing towers. Eight gates led into the city, the most important being the double gate of Ishtar with a blue facade adorned with alternating rows of yellow and white bulls and dragons. Through the Ishtar gate a broad, paved, processional street known as "Marduk's Way" passed between high walls, past Nebuchadrezzar's palace and the famous "hanging gardens" to the ziggurat of Marduk, the national god. This tremendous brick structure named E-temen-an-ki, "the House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth," was 300 feet square at the base and rose in eight successive stages to a height of 300 feet. Temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses abounded. Beyond the city were lush orchards, groves and gardens, fed by an intricate canal system, from which supplies of fruits and vegetables were obtained. Domesticated animals, fish, wild fowl and game provided a varied diet. From east and west, north and south, came caravans with goods for trade and barter. In festal seasons, sacred statuary from shrines in nearby cities was brought to Babylon by boat and land vehicles. Truly Babylon was, as her residents believed, at the "center" of the world. The magnificent splendor of the city must have impressed the Jews, and as we shall see, there is some evidence that Babylonian religious concepts also made an impression on the exiles.
A royal procession. Water color by W. Anger (Pergamon Museum, Berlin;)
In front: the Procession Street;
center: the Ištar Gate;
on the horizon: the Etemenanki Tower of Babel.
(626–539 bc). The Babylonians, in coalition with the Medes and Scythians, defeated the Assyrians in 612 bc and sacked Nimrud and Nineveh. They did not establish a new style or iconography. Boundary stones depict old presentation scenes or the images of kings with symbols of the gods. Neo-Babylonian creativity manifested itself architecturally at Babylon, the capital. This huge city, destroyed (689 bc) by the Assyrian Sennacherib, was restored by Nabopolassar (r. 626–605 bc) and his son Nebuchadnezzar II. Divided by the Euphrates, it took 88 years to build and was surrounded by outer and inner walls. Its central feature was Esagila, the temple of Marduk, with its associated seven-story ziggurat Etemenanki, popularly known later as the Tower of Babel. The ziggurat reached 91 m (300 ft) in height and had at the top a temple (a shrine) built of sun-dried bricks and faced with baked bricks. From the temple of Marduk northward passed the processional way, its wall decorated with enamelled lions. Passing through the Ishtar Gate, it led to a small temple outside the city, where ceremonies for the New Year Festival were held. West of the Ishtar Gate were two palace complexes; east of the processional way lay, since the times of Hammurabi, a residential area. Like its famous Hanging Gardens, one of the SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD, (q.v.), at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II little of the city remains. The Ishtar Gate (c. 575 bc) is one of the few surviving structures. The glazed-brick facade of the gate and the processional way that led up to it were excavated by German archaeologists and taken to Berlin, where the monument was reconstructed. The complex, some 30 m (about 100 ft) long, is on display in the city’s Vorderasiatische Museum. On the site of ancient Babylon, restoration of an earlier version of the Ishtar Gate, the processional way, and the palace complex, all built of unglazed brick, has been undertaken by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.
Nabonidus (r. 556–539 bc), the last Babylonian king, rebuilt the old Sumerian capital of Ur, including the ziggurat of Nanna, rival to the ziggurat Etemenanki at Babylon. It survived well and its facing of brick has recently been restored.
In 539 bc the Neo-Babylonian kingdom fell to the Persian Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. Mesopotamia became part of the Persian Empire, and a royal palace was built at Babylon, which was made one of the empire’s administrative capitals. Among the remains from Babylon of the time of Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the Persian empire, is a theater he built at the site known now as Humra. The brilliance of Babylon was ended about 250 bc when the inhabitants of Babylon moved to Seleucia, built by Alexander’s successors.