Oct 2, 2020 in Analysis

Great Pyramids versus Nanna Ziggurat

In ancient times, the rulers of empires and dynasties created a variety of monumental structures, which exist even in the modern period. The Great Pyramids of Giza and Nanna Ziggurat belong to the most prominent architectural elements built in the ancient era. Around 2100 BCE, the Sumerians built ziggurats out of mud-bricks in the ancient Near East. The Egyptian people constructed the Great Pyramids for their pharaohs during the fourth Dynasty, mainly from 2551 to 2472 BCE. The building material of the pyramids is limestone. The religious beliefs and culture of the Sumerians, who built the Ziggurats, and the Egyptians who created the Great Pyramids of Giza substantially differ from each other. An analysis of the Great Pyramids and Nanna Ziggurat shows that despite the fact that these architectural structures share similarities in the symbolism and overall appearance, they are different in their structure and functions.


Ziggurats are located on the territory that is today occupied by such countries as Iran and Iraq. German claims that Ziggurats “stand as an imposing testament to the power and skill of the ancient culture”. The best-preserved and largest ziggurat in Mesopotamia is Ziggurat at Ur. The king Ur-Nammu built Ziggurats to honor the sun god in 2100 BCE. This architectural structure has a rectangular shape with three levels of terraces in the front that come together at the top of the building. The massive pyramidal structure of Nanna Ziggurat is oriented to true North and stands between 70 and 100 feet high. Three monumental staircases lead to a gate located at the first terrace level. One staircase rises to a second terrace that supports a platform, which holds the highest terrace and a temple. The building material of the ziggurat is mud brick. Baked bricks that cover the mud brick are laid with bitumen. Each of such bricks weight approximately 33 pounds. Ziggurats contain thousands of such bricks. For example, the lower portion of the ziggurat that supports the first terrace has over 720 000 baked bricks. The most significant part of the ziggurat at Ur was the Nanna temple located at its top. However, it has not survived. Overall, the architects of the ziggurat built it with precise accuracy. They included holes in the exterior layer of the temple so that water could evaporate from the core, as well as added drains to the ziggurat’s terraces to take away the winter rains. The visual look of this architectural structure play an important role in attracting tourists; however, there is also a cultural aspect regarding Nanna Ziggurat that one should take into consideration.

The cultural aspect of Nanna Ziggurat is represented by its function. According to German, the king Ur-Nammu of the Third Dynasty of Ur built the Ziggurat at Ur for the moon god Nanna, who was the protector of the city. As a result, the structure was constructed in a way that would make it visible for miles around. German states the Ziggurat was the place where people worshiped their god of the city. The residents of Ur also brought their agricultural surplus, as well as received their food allotments. In ancient times, to visit Nanna Ziggurat meant to seek physical and spiritual nourishment. Overall, the Ziggurat at Ur functioned as a place where people could pray to their gods.

Another famous architectural building of antiquity is the Great Pyramids located in Giza. The ancient structure includes three large pyramids built over the span of three generations by the rulers Khufu, Menkaure, and Khafre. Each of them belonged to a royal mortuary complex. The building material is limestones. The pyramids also include a temple at its top and a long stone causeway of approximately one kilometer in length that leads east from the plateau to a valley temple. The largest pyramid was built by the pharaoh Khufu. It rises to a height of 146 meters while its base length stretches to over 230 meters per each side. Khufu’s pyramid includes more than 2 300 000 blocks made of inner casing, unhewn and quarried stones, as well as angled, outer casing blocks that are laid in even horizontal line. The architects on the pyramid also used white Tura limestones that enabled them to create a smooth surface that was reflective and bright. Khufu’s second son Khafre built the second largest pyramid of Giza. Despite the fact that the structure seems to be larger than Khufu’s, it is smaller; however, it was constructed ten meters higher on the plateau. The third monument belongs to Menkaure. It rises to a height of about 65 meters. Although Menkaure’s pyramid is the smallest one, its chambers are much more complex than those of the second pyramid. It includes a chamber with six large niches and the one carved with decorative panels. Other smaller pyramids and tombs than three large ones belong to queens. Visually, the pyramids attract millions of tourists from the whole world.  However, there is also a cultural aspect to consider.

The Great Pyramids function as the place where the deceased kings, mainly Khufu, Menkaure, and Khafre, were buried. According to Calvert, the shape of pyramids “was a solar reference, perhaps intended as a solidified version of the rays of the sun” so that the pharaohs could “climb to the sky”. The cemetery of smaller tombs, called mastabas, occupies the territory to the west and east and Khufu’s pyramid. They were built for the prominent members of the court. In ancient times, being buried near the pharaoh was an honor and was believed to provide a prized place in the afterlife. These buildings were considered places of the regeneration of the deceased rulers.

Both the Great Pyramids and Nanna Ziggurat provide archeologists with data concerning the life of ancient people and their cultures. When first comparing the pyramids at Giza with the ziggurats, one may see that they are completely different, mainly by their size and purpose. However, despite this fact these architectural structures share a number of visual and cultural similarities. First, both monuments belong to the period of antiquity. The Great Pyramids of Giza and Nanna Ziggurat were constructed around 2500 and 2100 BCE respectively. The second aspect is that both of them have the general form of a pyramid. Similarly to Egyptian pyramids, an ancient ziggurat, located in the Near East, has four sides that rise upwards. The third similarity is the massiveness in the physical properties of both the pyramids and ziggurats. These archeological elements structures were meant to serve as massive iconic structures for their audience, including Mesopotamians and Egyptians. As a result, the reason to construct these buildings was to show prestige and wealth of rulers, the stability of the country, as well as loyalty to deities. The fourth similarity is the interior design. Despite the fact that the decorations are not exactly alike, they are generally the same as both structures contain the statuettes of gods, rulers, and servants, as well as contain writings. 

An analysis of cultural aspects also reveals the presence of similarities between the Great Pyramids and Nanna Ziggurat. The purpose of both structures refers to the sphere of religion. Symbolism played a significant role in the ziggurats and pyramids as they both shared similar meanings to the population of Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as messages that the rulers strived to convey to the audience. King of the Sumerians constructed the Nanna Ziggurat to glorify the moon god Nanna while Egyptian kings built the Great Pyramids so that the citizens could glorify their rulers. Another similarity between these massive buildings is the idea that the ruling class felt the need to create these structures to protect either themselves or religious rituals and practice.

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However, although Nanna Ziggurat and the Great Pyramids share a number of visual and cultural similarities, they are substantially different. An analysis of visual features shows that pyramids are burial grounds and tombs while ziggurats are temples. In terms of building location, the Ziggurat of Ur is located on the territory of modern Iraq that corresponds to the Ancient Mesopotamian region while the Great Pyramids are located in Egypt. The third difference is the use of building material. The pyramids are very much more complex than the ziggurats as they are built of limestones while ziggurats are made of mud-bricks, the material that was widely used in the Near East. Egyptian pyramids have a smooth surface while ziggurats are tiered. The tiered surface was aimed at accommodating the work that took place at the building and meeting the practice of religious rituals carried out by Ancient Near Eastern cities. The fourth difference lies in the form of basis. The base of ziggurats have is rectangle shaped and have three platforms and stairs, which converge on the first platform. The Great Pyramids have a square base with four sloping sides, which meet at one point at the top. Besides visual distinctions, there are also cultural ones.  

Ziggurats and pyramids considerably differ in terms of their functions. Pyramids were created to be the final resting places of the pharaohs while ziggurats were constructed for people to glorify and pray to their gods. It means that the Great Pyramids serves as a place where people could honor the dead pharaoh while Nanna Ziggurat was a temple for worship.

In conclusion, taking into consideration the analysis of the Great Pyramids of Giza and Nanna Ziggurat, both architectural elements share a number of similarities and differences. Visually, the structures are similar because both of them belong to the period of antiquity, have the form of a pyramid, are massive buildings, and have decorative interiors. Culturally, pyramids and ziggurats convey the rulers’ messages to their citizens. However, both elements visually differ in their location, building material used for their construction, as well as the form of basis. Culturally, the Great Pyramids of Giza and Nanna Ziggurat differ in their purpose as the former one serves as burial places for pharaohs while the latter one serves as a place where people could pray to their gods. Overall, both structures are architectural and engineering masterpieces. The comparison of the Great Pyramids of Giza and Nanna Ziggurat may serve as a basis for the further investigation of the interior of these structures.


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