Mesopotamian Ziggurats Homeschool Lesson

Mesopotamian Ziggurat

In this homeschool lesson about Mesopotamian ziggurats we will explore what ziggurats are, where and when they were built and by whom. We will then investigate why ziggurats were built, looking into depth at the Anu Ziggurat and White Temple at Urek.

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Mesopotamian Ziggurats

To recap so far, the hunter gatherer Natufians first settled in the Levant region leading to the development of cultures such as the Samarran culture, the Ubaid culture and the Halaf culture.

Read More: Natufian People – the very first known settled hunters and gatherers, who lived in the Levant region of Mesopotamia during the pre-pottery Neo-lithic Era


Eridu was an example of an Ubaid village, an advanced precursor to the eventual larger towns found near to the Mesopotamian rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. Beginning as a village settled on marshlands, Eridu was provided with excellent soil nutrients vital for crops to succeed. As the marshland dried out, the Ubaid people needed to find a way to supply the fields with water throughout the year. They learnt to irrigate using dug out irrigation channels. Requiring much organisation, officials were appointed to oversee the work, much like Gobekli Tepe, although these workers and officials lived nearby.

Take a look: I have written a post about the fascinating Gobekli Tepe and another on some of the art found there #firstevergrafitti

This type of hierarchy allowed the development of larger villages. Each village would adopt one particular god to be ‘their’ god, leading to the creation of, at first, simple shrines which eventually grew in size to become small temples, always built on the same spot. Each new temple would be built on the remains of the one before, with the older temple being encased in a rectangular platform.


Urek was situated further up the River Euphrates on the opposite bank. The biggest city of its time, Urek thrived between 3800-3100 BC. It was 640 acres, surrounded on all sides by a wall. It contained two temple precincts. The first was dedicated to the goddess of love, Inanna. The second was dedicated to the god of the heavens, Anu. These were the first Mesopotamian ziggurats.

Do check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out how ziggurats fit into the history of Mesopotamia. This huge post has lots of printable, videos, science experiments and, as always, stacks of suggestions for easy hands on activities you can do with your children! I am always adding new stuff to this post so do go and check it out.

Find out more: I also have a YouTube account where I post videos focused on history unit studies and particularly videos containing instructions on how to make a wide variety of artefacts from the Mesopotamia region.

What Are the Mesopotamian Ziggurats?

We have already seen that the raised platforms of the Ubaid period were the precursors to the Mesopotamian ziggurats. The word ‘ziggurat’ comes from the ancient Assyrian word ziqqurratum which means height or pinnacle. Ziggurats began as a humble shrine. These shrines evolved over time. In fact, they were built atop each other. The Mesopotamians would enclose the old structure in a flat platform. They would then build the new shrine (or temple) on this platform. As time went on, these structures grew in size.

Eventually, ziggurats grew to be massive pyramidal stepped towers, similar to the step pyramids of ancient Egypt. In fact, ziggurats are thought to have inspired the ancient Egyptians to build their own pyramids. Being built on top of the previous temple meant that ziggurats could be up to seven stories high, each receding from the one before.

Mesopotamian Ziggurats were built from a core of mud brick which was covered in a crust of baked clay. Sometimes these facings were glazed in different colours. Others were landscaped with plants and trees. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are an example of this. They had no internal chambers and were solid all the way through. Their rectangular or square base was, on average, 40m by 50m or 50m squared.

Herodotus believed there to be a shrine at the top of every Mesopotamian ziggurat. There is no archeological proof for this. However, the presence of a stairway or spiral ramp giving means of ascent suggests this may be accurate. Regardless, each ziggurat formed part of a temple complex which included courtyards, storage rooms, bathrooms and living quarters. This temple complex provided a place for communal worship and was the focal point around which the city grew.

Where Are Mesopotamian Ziggurats Found?

I guess the clue is in the name! Ziggurats are a purely Ancient Mesopotamian invention. They are not found in any other country. They may have been the precursor to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, but their function is too different for them to be deemed the same.

Ziggurats are characteristic of the larger cities of Mesopotamia. There are 25 known ziggurats and they are all to be found equally divided between Sumer, Babylon and Assyria. The oldest is to be found at Kashan in Iran. The best preserved (and probably most well-known) is the Great Ziggurat of Ur. The largest is at Chogha Zambia in Elam.

Why did the Mesopotamians Build Ziggurats?

Mesopotamian ziggurats are thought to have had both religious and astrological significance. As already mentioned, Herodotus wrote that the ziggurats had a shrine or temple at the top of each one. Although there is no evidence for this, it seems likely that the main purpose of the ziggurats was religious.

The Mesopotamians believed that the gods existed in the heavens. The ziggurats therefore became their earthly dwelling place. Each city had their own patron god who, it was thought, lived in the temple at the top of the Ziggurat. Herodotus believed that the ziggurats had two purposes. The first is purely practical. The priests, who for a long time were the most powerful people in Mesopotamia, were able to use the ziggurats to escape the yearly floods. The second reason is because the sheer height of the ziggurat and the fact that one could only reach the top by the steps or ramp, it is an extraordinarily secure place for the shrine.

Ziggurats may also have been a symbolic means of expressing a theocratic political system. A central and visual focal point of each city, the Mesopotamians believed the gods were in control. State officials were merely there to operate on the god’s behalf.

Not for Communal Worship

However, it would be wrong to assume that the ziggurats were a place of communal worship. Public ceremonies were held within the surrounding temple complexes but never in the temple itself. Offerings would have been made and music played during public festivals (for example harvest). But only the priests could enter the actual temple atop the ziggurat.

The Mesopotamians believed the gods actually inhabited the statues created of them in the shrines. The priests, therefore, looked after the gods and attended their needs. They also interceded on behalf of the people. In this way, the priests were arguably some of the most powerful people within Mesopotamian society.

Ziggurat Notebook Pages

I have created some ziggurat notebook pages which can be downloaded for free below:

An Example of a Mesopotamian Ziggurat:

White Temple of Urek

The White Temple of Urek was built in ancient Sumer during the Late Urek Period (late 4th century BC). There is a flat ziggurat base with a white temple on top. The added temple was thought to bring the heavens closer to man. The ziggurat provides access to the gods via the steps. This ziggurat, which is dedicated to Anu, was believed to bring the earth closer to heaven.

Mesopotamian ziggurat at Urek

The map above shows the extent of this huge temple complex which rose 40 feet above the flat plains of Urek. You can see that it would have dominated the city and been visible from a great distance away.

I created a simple model of this White Temple atop the Anu ziggurat. Please do take a look and like and subscribe if you’re interested in seeing more homeschool videos:

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How to make a Mesopotamia Ziggurat

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