Tower of Babble: A Scycrapper?

The cities of today exhibit the tallest structures the world has ever seen. The density of urban environments  is high due to the desire to live and do business as close to the heart of the metropolis as is possible, provides developers with an obvious solution; build high. The resulting structures are often linked with a city’s prestige on the world stage, incorporating fine hotels, office blocks and living accommodation as a symbol of how progressive a place is. As a result, an air of competition accompanies new designs as towers creep higher and higher in a bid to exceed others.


What inspires us to reach ever further upward? Is it really possible to make a name for ourselves by building high?The ancient region of Mesopotamia has been home to a number of high structures over its long history. It is generally considered to correspond to modern day Iraq, and parts of Syria and Turkey.This is where one of the first recorded attempts to build upward is thought to have taken place: the Tower of Babel. This structure was initiated somewhere on the plain of Shinar and has often been linked to the ancient city of Babylon (Babel in Hebrew), although the exact site of the tower has been much debated by scholars.

Some suggest that the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat (a rectangular stepped tower). When the archaeologists of the 19th century first sought the tower at Babylon, they found up to five mounds in the region, none of which was the ziggurat of Babylon. Possible sites further afield were also initially entertained as locations for the tower, such as Borsippa (Birs Nimrud, the tower of Nimrod) and Dur-Kurigalzu (“Aqar Quf”). As late as 1897 the claims of Birs Nimrud and Babil were still being fiercely debated. In 1901 however, the matter seemed to be settled when the excavators of Babylon “discovered that the ziggurat had actually been located in the centre of Babylon, between Kasr and Amran.” What they had found was evidence for a ziggurat of Babylon, but there remains to this day no hard evidence to prove that this structure (or any other) was the precise Tower of Babel recorded in Genesis.

The city of Babylon certainly boasted several large structures throughout its long history. Paul Kriwaczek, an author and former journalist, notes that in the Eridu quarter “stood the most important religious building in Babylon: E-Sagila, Sumerian for the ‘House with the High Head.’” This was the temple dedicated to the pagan god Marduk. On the other side of a 75-metre-wide plaza that stretched before E-Sagila, was the famous structure of Etemenanki, the “House which is the foundation-peg of Heaven and Earth,” the 90-metre-high Ziggurat of Babylon. It is this tower that Kriwaczek suggests is the Tower of Babel, speculating that “the biblical author must have known its Akkadian name when he wrote, ‘And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven’ (Genesis 11:4).”

However, the Etemenanki as described by Kriwaczek is likely to have been a much later structure than the tower described in Genesis, as it is linked to the Neo-Babylonian period (c. 900–539) of Nabopolassar (626–605 B.C.), who undoubtedly incorporated an older ziggurat within his design. Gwendolyn Leick, an anthropologist and Assyriologist, states that the “temple precinct of Esagila was certainly an old foundation going back to at least the First Dynasty of Babylon.”

In one sense, that foundation was an attitude that could be traced back to the Tower of Babel: one of “build high to make a name for ourselves.” The Hebrew Scriptures describe an attitude in which the builders at Babylon thought they were constructing something akin to the “Gate of God” (Bab-Ilu/Babylon). In response, says Genesis, God confused the languages at Babel reducing singleness of purpose to mere babble (Balal, meaning to mix up). The result was to spread humankind across the face of the earth; bringing the building program to a halt.

In contrast, the foundation document of Nabopolassar’s rebuilding of Etemenanki describes how he believed he had received instruction from the gods to proceed. He was to build the structure “on the heart of the Apsu,” a sacred lake where Enki, purported god of civilization, was believed to live, and in later tradition a place seen as connected to the underworld. Leick observes that the building was an attempt to anchor “the whole city within cosmic parameters.” Nabopolassar certainly viewed his reconstruction efforts as rebuilding on the past, describing himself as he who “searches for the ancient foundation platform.”

With the ambition to be “the foundation-peg of Heaven and Earth,” a structure like Etemenanki was intended to establish Babylon as nothing less than the universal center. The 1994 edition of The Penguin Dictionary of Symbolssuggests that structures of this kind were “supposed to have gone down deep below the ground,” and perhaps contained “an underground cell with rubble-work below or else with a deep well in the centre.” In this way the builders of these towers believed they could join together the three worlds of Heaven, Earth and Underworld. Such towers it seems were physical engagements with the limits of the unchecked human imagination.

The building of Etemenanki was completed by Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 B.C.) in about 590 BC. The final product was a vast structure. It took Nebuchadnezzar a further 43 years to complete and has been calculated to have incorporated some 17 million fired bricks.

Today, there is no ruin where Etemenenki once raised its head toward heaven. Alexander of Macedon, seeking to make Babylon the capital of his empire, hoped to rebuild Babylon’s ziggurat. Having dismantled it in preparation for its reconstruction, he died before he could achieve that ambition. Kriwaczeck notes that “all we find today in what was once Babylon’s Eridu quarter are the waterlogged foundations.” Wherever the actual Tower of Babel stood on the plain of Shinar, it is evident that the structure itself, like all such self-promoting structures, was only a fleeting hubris.

Posted in earth, opinions, urban morphology, Urban Studies | Leave a comment

Why the Arctic is so vital in the fight against climate change.

Swift Science

The Arctic is warming far more than the rest of the world, in some regions it is already more than 3oC warmer than the 1950s, already exceeding the Paris agreements threshold. What makes this so frightening is the incredible potential the Arctic has to warm the planet further.

The albedo effect is when solar radiation enters our planet from the sun and some is reflected. Brighter surfaces are more reflective than darker ones, and so at the moment the Arctic reflects huge amounts of heat out of our atmosphere due to its bright sea ice and snow cover. However, as sea ice and snow melts, more and more solar energy is being absorbed by the Earth’s darker surfaces.

Moreover, cold Arctic temperatures have limited carbon release for tens of thousands of years, instead storing it in the frozen ground. However, as temperatures rise, the ground is starting to…

View original post 216 more words

Posted in earth | Leave a comment

Tracing the History of Urban Civilization

The world’s most advanced urban civilizations are impressive achievements of human planning, technology, engineering and imagination. Modern cityscapes appear to have been built with the specific aim of serving the needs of our civilizations and their institutions. But where does the idea of urban civilization, or the city itself, originate?


One of the important first cities was Ur. The term “Urban” perhaps was coined from its name.Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyar  in Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governorate. Once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf, Ur is now well inland, south of the Euphrates on its right bank, 16 kilometres  from Nasiriyah.

The site is marked by the ruins of the Ziggurat of Ur, which contained the shrine of Nanna, excavated in the 1930s. The temple was built in the 21st century BC , during the reign of Ur-Nammu and was reconstructed in the 6th century BC by Nabonidus, the Assyrian born last king of Babylon. The ruins cover an area of 1,200 metres  northwest to southeast by 800 metres  northeast to southwest and rise up to about 20 metres  above the present plain level.

The name Mesopotamia was used by the ancient Greeks to describe land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It means literally “between the rivers” and largely corresponds to present-day Iraq. However, today the term has a broader interpretation, stretching to include parts of Syria and Turkey as well. The region, which incorporates the “fertile crescent,” is widely considered to be the cradle of human civilization.

Author and former journalist Paul Kriwaczek has observed that “ancient Mesopotamia acted as a kind of experimental laboratory for civilization.” It was into the rural environment of this region that the idea of civilization was born “in a single place, at a single time. From there and from then,” says Kriwaczek, “the concept spread at remarkable speed to conquer the world.”

One early human settlement in the south of the region was the city of Eridu. The central focal point at Eridu was a temple that was built and rebuilt several times on the same spot. Religion and collective civilization seem to have grown up together from an early stage. The pagan god worshipped in the temple at Eridu was called Enki. According to Kriwaczek, “the Eridu temple was the symbol of a community who believed in—perhaps one might even say invented—the ideology of progress: the belief that it was both possible and desirable continually to improve on what had gone before, that the future could and should be better—and bigger—than the past.” What Enki personified therefore, and what was worshipped at Eridu, was progress itself.

Sixty-five kilometers from Eridu, was Unug, later Uruk, in the land of Sumer. The early human settlement of Uruk, like Eridu, had also developed around its temple, in this case devoted to Inanna, a goddess of copulative compulsion and warfare. According to Kriwaczek, the idea of “sexual charm” associated with Inanna “was as important to the foundation of their civilization as Enki’s ideology of progress.” This idea for the inhabitants of Uruk, “was all that stood between survival and extinction. Make babies, was the rule, or disappear.”

The bounds of permissiveness in the worship of Inanna were essentially nonexistent. Gwendolyn Leick, an anthropologist and Assyriologist, argues that the “ritual personnel” of Inanna was not at all exclusive, but extended to “a contingent of transsexuals and perhaps homosexuals, as well as numerous women.” She notes further that “Uruk, ‘mother of cities’ in so many respects . . . may also have been the first to develop mentalities and facilities to challenge conventional sexuality.” What might seem strange however, is the religious basis for these foundational ideas.

If we remove the external religious paraphernalia evident here, perhaps what Uruk’s civilization experiment demonstrates is that the sexual revolution of the 1960s, or the conventions established for our own civilizations were not so revolutionary or original. How truly new then were the civilizations that grew up from the mother of cities?


The progress experiments carried out at Eridu and Uruk, were not localized examples. They spread. It was the Amorite rulers who realized that the Sumerian brand of civilization could be taken to the next level. The multiple ethnicities within Mesopotamia could be forged into a single new state, centered around a new city, Babylon. The city became a significant built environment, and throughout its long history, underwent development and reconstruction as the progress experiment grew into a true metropolis.

Religious beliefs remained largely unchanged, about the only innovation being the introduction to the pantheon of Babylon’s patron deity Marduk, who—according to Kriwaczek—“slowly took over the status and prerogatives of Enlil, former king of the gods.”  Continuity with the past was deemed important and consequently Marduk was cast as the son of Ea [Enki], Lord of civilization, and was said to rule alongside his father. A desire for this new civilization to retain its links to the past is also evident in that one district of the new city bore the name Eridu. It was here that the temple of Marduk, E-Sagila, was located. Kriwaczek points out that this “was the very name [E-Sagila] borne by the sanctuary of Enki in Eridu.”  The next level for Babylon seems to have meant the perpetuation of past conceptions, only on a bigger scale. But what influence could this retention of old ideas in new forms have had upon our present?


As is widely known, we still use the Babylonian sexagesimal number system, based on multiples of 60: we attribute 60 seconds to a minute and 60 minutes to an hour. But perhaps the inheritance for modern civilization goes even further. As Leick observes, the “great majority” of texts surviving from Babylon are “economic in nature.” Babylon seems to have had a well-established economic system. Partnerships, borrowing, investments in the supply of grain and bread to temples and palaces are all evident. The lending was also targeted at much smaller borrowers over short periods of time, such as to farm workers and fishermen who needed to pay taxes. There are also examples of lenders for bigger ventures selling debt. Further, investments made in overseas trading expeditions “brought Babylonian merchants close to what we recognize as commodity futures.”

Kriwaczek cites examples suggesting that “there is not much about today’s commodity markets that an old Assyrian would not quickly recognize.” Its financial markets and empire exhibited a similar lack of sustainability to our own. “Assyria soon discovered a painful truth,” says Kriwaczek. “Empires are like Ponzi schemes: financial frauds in which previous investors are paid returns out of new investors’ deposits. The costs of holding imperial territory can only be underwritten by loot and tribute extracted by constant new conquests; empires must continue to expand if they are not to collapse.”

The type of knowledge that informed the building of Eridu, Uruk and Babylon continues to inform our world today. Modern civilizations still strive towards the new and the better, but is what Kriwaczek describes as the “creative force behind all history” really directing humanity to the next stage? Its character, it would seem, is only cyclical death and destruction. The ability to usher in the truly new seems to be entirely beyond humanity’s collective effort.

Posted in earth, urban morphology, Urban Studies | Leave a comment

Ten characteristics of an urban civilization

  1. Size and density of cities. The great enlargement of an organised population meant a much wider level of social integration.


  1. Full-time specialisation of labour. Specialisation of production among workers was institutionalised, as were systems of distribution and exchange.


  1. Concentration of surplus. There were social means for the collection and management of the surplus production of farmers and artisans.


  1. Class-structured society. A privileged ruling class of religious, political and military functionaries organised and directed the society.


  1. State organisation. There was a well-structured political organisation with membership based on residence. This replaced political identification based on kinship


Secondary characteristics


  1. Monumental public works. There were collective enterprises in the form of temples, palaces, storehouses and irrigation systems.


  1. Long-distance trade. Specialisation and exchange were expanded beyond the city in the development of trade.


  1. Standardized, monumental artwork. Highly developed art forms gave expression to symbolic identification and aesthetic enjoyment.


  1. The art of writing facilitated the processes of social organisation and management.


  1. Arithmetic geometry and astronomy. Exact, predictive science and engineering were initiated.

Link(s) and Source(s):

Source: Urban Geography: A Global Perspective Pacione 2e Pb – Pdf .., (accessed September 19, 2018).

Origin of world “Town”Early Urban Hearths

ZigurratCity is Built Layer by Layer

Dimensions of Smart City ,First Urbanization in India

Importance of Urban Biodiversity ,City Classification by Harris

City Classification by NelsonUndersatnding Urban Poverty

Urban Poverty Differs from Rural Poverty

Posted in earth, urban morphology, Urban Studies | Leave a comment