“The Vatican of Babylon”
IN HIS book Lost Cities, Leonard Cottrell tells of the excavation of the ruins of Babylon, begun by the German Oriental Society under Robert Koldewey: “One by one the principal buildings were revealed by the Germans’ patient methods; the Temple of Nimach, the Moat Wall of Imgur-Bel, and the sacred precinct which enclosed the Ziggurat (Tower) Etemenanki, ‘the foundation stone of heaven and earth’—The Tower of Babylon itself. It consisted of a huge rectangular courtyard, surrounded by buildings, some perhaps intended to house pilgrims who came to the shrine of the god, others the rich and spacious homes of the high priests. This was, as Koldewey says, ‘the Vatican of Babylon,’ the place which Herodotus described as ‘The brazen-doored sanctuary of Zeus Belus.’
◆ “From one end of the courtyard rose the tower itself, in eight stages, though to what height it originally climbed we cannot be certain. Both Nebuchadnezzar and his father Nabopolassar have left inscriptions which emphasize its height. Nabopolassar says: ‘At this time Marduk commanded me . . . ; the tower of Babylon, which in time before me had become weak, and had been brought to ruin, to lay its foundations firm to the bosom of the underworld, while its top should stretch heavenwards.’ And his son boasts that ‘To raise up the top of Etemenanki that it may rival heaven I laid my hand’. . . . Babylon itself, after a brief resurrection, has returned once more to the shapeless mass of ruins which Rich and Layard saw, for mud-brick walls, once exposed, soon crumble, and since the Germans left the Arab builders of Hillah have quarried away practically every brick of the Ziggurat of Etemenanki. It exists only in the pages of Koldewey’s book.”
◆ A recent visitor to the ruins of Babylon, Peter Bamm, says in his book Early Sites of Christianity: “The excavations are a bewildering and almost impenetrable field of ruins. . . . On entering the excavation site one first comes on the celebrated Gate of Ishtar. Ishtar was the goddess of fertility. She later fused with the Greek Demeter. The Gate of Ishtar is an extensive structure deeply embedded in the earth. I passed between high brick walls, fifty feet high, on which one can still make out the shapes of enormous bulls, dragons, and lions, which were distributed at regular intervals. The reliefs were composed of brilliantly colored glazed tiles. All this magnificent work was taken to Berlin fifty years ago. Part of the Gate of Ishtar was filled up by Nebuchadnezzar himself in order to build a processional avenue on a higher level.
◆ “Most of Nebuchadnezzar’s processional route, which was paved with great stone slabs, has been laid bare. It is several miles in length. It begins at the Gate of Ishtar and ends at the Ziggurat, the tower on the summit of which stood the Temple of Marduk, the god of Babylon. In solemn processions the statues of the gods were carried by the priests along this road. The sacred route was lined with palaces on both sides, and the foundation walls that have been excavated still give one an idea of their grandeur. The road must have looked rather like the Champs Élysées in Paris, between the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.”
◆ Archaeologist Koldewey, who called the temple area “the Vatican of Babylon,” published his impressions in the book The Excavations at Babylon: “For what is written information in comparison with the clearness of the evidence we gain from the buildings themselves, ruined though they are? The colossal mass of the tower, which the Jews of the Old Testament regarded as the essence of human presumption, amidst the proud palaces of the priests, the spacious treasuries, the innumerable lodgings for strangers—white walls, bronze doors, mighty fortification walls set round with lofty portals and a forest of 1,000 towers—the whole must have conveyed an overwhelming sense of greatness, power and wealth, such as rarely could have been found elsewhere in the great Babylonian kingdom.
◆ “I once beheld the great silver standing statue of the Virgin, over life-size, laden with votive offerings, rings, precious stones, gold and silver, borne on a litter by forty men, appear in the portal of the dome of Syracuse, high above the heads of the assembled crowds. . . . After the same fashion I picture to myself a procession of the god Marduk as he issued forth from Esagila, perhaps through the peribolos, to proceed on this triumphant way through the Procession Street of Babylon.”