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ASSYRIAN

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Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 376 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ASSYRIAN ARCHITECTURE About 3800 B.C. the earlier inhabitants of Chaldaea or Babylonia were invaded and absorbed by a Semitic race, whose first monarch was Sargon of Agade (Akkad). 'Soo years later, emigrations took place northward, and founded Nineveh on the banks of the Tigris, about 250 M. north of Babylon. 1200 years later, the Assyrians began building the magnificent series of palaces from which were brought the winged man-headed bulls and the sculptured slabs now in the British Museum. The leading characteristics of the style, and the nature of the structures, ihmples and palaces, evolved by the Chaldaeans (or first Babylonian empire), the Assyrians, and the new Babylonian empire, are similar; they are best known by thosewhich represent a culmination of the style in north Mesopotamia, and are therefore described here. By a singular coincidence the remains of the oldest building found at Nippur (Niffar), in lower Mesopotamia, bear a close resemblance to the oldest pyramid in Egypt, Medum, before it received its final casing. The latter, however, is known to have been a tomb, whereas the structure at Nippur was a temple, which took the form of a ziggurat or stage tower. It consisted of several storeys built one over the other, the upper storey in each case being set back behind the lower, in order to leave a terrace all round. In some cases the terrace was wider in front, to give space for staircases ascending from storey to storey. In consequence of the extreme flatness of the country and its liability to sudden inundations, it became necessary, when erecting buildings of any kind, to raise them on mounds of earth. The more important the structure, the higher was it deemed necessary to raise it, so as to make it the most conspicuous feature in the landscape. The result is that from Abu Shahrain, the most southern town, to Akarkuf (Aqarquf), 220 M. north, there are a series of immense mounds, sometimes nearly a mile in diameter, and rising to a height of 200 ft., crowned with the remains of towns, which, notwithstanding the thirty centuries more or less during which they have been exposed to the torrential rains and the destructive agencies of man, form still the most prominent features in the country. The structures which were raised on the mound, i.e. the temples and palaces with their enclosure walls, were all built with bricks made of the alluvial clay of the country, shaped in wooden moulds and dried in the heat of the sun, a heat so intense that they acquired sometimes the hardness of the inferior qualities of stone. The walls of the temples, palaces and enclosures had the same batter as that already referred to in the preceding section on Egypt. In the latter country they were reproduced in stone, of which there were many quarries on either side of the Nile; in Chaldaea they were obliged to content themselves with the preservation of their ziggurats by outer casings of burnt brick and with pavements of tiles for their terraces. In order to vary the monotony of their temple walls, and perhaps to give them greater strength, they built vertical bands or buttresses at intervals, or they sank panels in the walls to two depths, a natural decoration to which brick work lends itself; and these two methods, which were employed in early times, were followed by the Assyrians in the palaces of Nimrud, Nineveh and Khorsabad. The earlier settlements were those founded between the mouths of the Tigris and the Euphrates, on what was then the shore of the Persian Gulf, now some 140 M. farther south. The principal towns where the remains of ziggurats have been found, all on the borders of the Euphrates, beginning with the most southern, are:—Abu Shahrain (Eridu); Mugheir (Ur of the Chaldees); Senkera (? Ellasar or Larsa) ; Warka (Erech) ; Tello (Eninnu) ; Nippur; Birs Nimrud (Borsippa) ; Babil (Babylon) ; El Ohemir (Kish) ; Abu Habba (Sippara) ; and Akarkuf (Durkurigalsu). Although the ziggurats at Warka, Nippur and Tello are probably of older foundation, the great temple of Borsippa at Birs Nimrud is in better preservation, having been restored or rebuilt by Nebuchadrezzar, and may be taken as a typical example. The ground storey was 272 ft. square, and, according to Fergusson, 45 ft. high. The upper storeys or stages receded back, one behind the other, so as to leave a terrace all round. Although it is not possible to trace more than four storeys, it is known from the description on a cylinder found on the site that there were seven storeys, dedicated to the planets, each coloured with the special tint prescribed. The total height was about 16o ft., and on the top was a shrine dedicated to the god Nebo. An invaluable record of the researches which have been made during the last three centuries or more is given in H. V. Hilprecht's Explorations in Bible Lands during the zgth Century. Two or three of them might be mentioned here. At Warka Mr Kenneth Loftus uncovered a wall, strengthened by buttresses 15 ft. wide and projecting 18 in., between which were panels filled with a series of semicircular shafts side by side, both buttresses and shafts being decorated with geometrical patterns consisting of small earthenware cones embedded in the wall, the ends of which were enamelled in various colours. The design of these patterns is so unlike anything found in Assyrian work, but bears so close a resemblance to the geometrical designs carved on the columns at Diarbekr ascribed to the Parthians, that this wall may have been built at a much later period; and this becomes the more probable in view of the discoveries made subsequently at Tello and Nippur, where Parthian palaces have been found, crowning the summits of the ancient Chaldaean mounds. In both these towns the researches made in later years have been carried out far more methodically than previously, and, following the example of Schliemann, excavations have been made to great depths, careful notes being taken of the strata shown by the platforms at different levels. At Tello, de Sarzac discovered the magnificent collection of statues of diorite now in the Louvre, one of them (unfortunately headless) of Gudea, priest-king and architect of Lagash, seated and carrying on his lap a tablet, on which is engraved the plan of a fortified enclosure, whilst a divided scale and a stylos are carved in relief near the upper and right-hand side. A silver inlaid vase of Entemena, also priest-king of Lagash (about 3950 B.c.), and other treasures, were found on the same site. At Nippur (the ancient Calneh) the research undertaken by the university of Pennsylvania resulted in the discovery, under a ziggurat dated from 4000–4500 B.C., of a barrel-vaulted tunnel, in the floor of which were found terra-cotta drain pipes with flanged mouths. At a later date (3750 B.c.) Naram-Sin, the son of Sargon, had built over the older ziggurat a loftier and larger temple, above which was a third built by Ur Gur (2500 B.C.), which still retained its burnt brick casing, 5 ft. thick. Crowning all these was the Parthian palace mentioned in the section on Parthian architecture below. The result of these researches has not only carried back the date of the earlier settlements to a prehistoric period quite unknown, but has suggested that if similar researches are carried out in other well-known mounds, among which the great city of Babylon should be counted as the most important, further revelations may still be made. But we have now to pass to the principal cities of the Assyrian monarchy on the river Tigris. At Nineveh, the capital, which is about 250 M. north of Babylon, the remains of three palaces have been found, those of Sennacherib (705–68s B.C.), Esarhaddon (68'–668 B.c.), and Assurbanipal (668–626 B.C.). At Nimrud (the ancient From Tire History a) Art in Ckaldaea and Assyria, by permission of Chapman & 'fall, Lid. A, Principal courtyard. E, Official residences. B, The harem. F, The king's residence. C, The offices. G, The ziggurat or twnple. DD, The halls of state. Calah, founded by Assur), 20 M. south of Nineveh, are also three palaces, one (the earliest known) built by Assurnazirpal (885–860 B.C.), the others by Shalmaneser II. (86o–825 B.C.) and Esarhaddon. At Balawat, so m. east of Nineveh, was a second palace of Shalmaneser II., and at Khorsabad, so m. north-east of Nineveh, the palace (fig. 8) built by Sargon 722–705 B.C.), which was situated on the banks of the Khanser, a tributary of the Tigris. As this palace is one of the most extensive of those hitherto explored, its description will best give the general idea of the plan and conception of an Assyrian palace. The palace was built on an immense platform, made of sun-dried bricks, enclosed in masonry, and covering an area of nearly one million square feet, raised 48 ft. above the town level. The principal front of the palace measured 900 ft., there being a terrace in front. The approach was probably by a double inclined ramp which chariots and horses could mount. A central and two side portals (fig. 9), flanked with winged human-headed bulls (now in the British Museum), led to the principal courtyard (A), measuring 300 ft. by 240 ft. The block (B) on the left of the court, containing smaller courts and rooms, constituted the harem; that on the right the offices (C) ; those in the rear the halls of state (DDD), the residences of the officers of the court (E), the king's private apartments (F) being on the left, facing the ziggurat or temple (G). In the extreme rear were other state rooms with terraces probably laid out as gardens and commanding a view of the river and country beyond. As there must have been nearly 700 rooms in the palace, the destination of the greater number of which it would be difficult to determine, it will be sufficient to refer only to those state rooms in which the principal sculptured slabs were found, and which decorated the lower 9 ft. of the walls. The two chief factors to be noted are (s) the great length of the halls compared with their width, the chief hall being 15o ft. long and 30 ft. wide, and (2) the immense thickness of the walls, which measured 28 ft. The only reason for walls of this thickness would be to resist the thrust of a vault, and as La Place, the French explorer, found many blocks of earth of great size, the soffits of which were covered with stucco and had apparently fallen from a height, he was led to the conclusion, now generally accepted, that these halls were vaulted. These discoveries, and the fact that in none of the palaces excavated has a single foundation of the base of any column been found, quite dispose of Fergusson's restoration, which was based on the palaces of Persepolis. Moreover, the two climates are entirely different. In the mountainous country of Persia the breezes might be welcomed, but in Mesopotamia the heat is so intense that every precaution (After Layard.) has to be taken to protect the inmates of the house or palace. Thick walls and vaults were a necessity in Nineveh, and even the windows or openings must have been of small dimensions. No windows have been found, nor are any shown on the bas-reliefs, except on the upper parts of towers. It is possible therefore that the light was admitted through terra-cotta pipes or cylinders, of which many were found on the site, and this is the modern system of lighting the dome in the East. Although no remains have ever been found of domes in any of the Assyrian palaces, the representation of many domical forms is given in a bas-relief found at Kuyunjik (fig. to), suggesting that the dome was often employed to roof over their halls. Reference has already been made to the bas-reliefs which decorated the lower portion of the great halls; the less important rooms had their walls covered with stucco and painted. Externally the architectural deccration was of the simplest kind; the lower portion of the walls was faced with stone; and the monumental portals, in addition to the winged bulls which flanked them, had deep archivolts in coloured enamels on glazed brick, with figures and rosettes in bright colours. A similar decoration would seem to have been applied to the crenellated battlements, which crowned all the exterior walls, as also those of the courts. The buttresses inside the courts, and the towers which flanked the chief entrance, were decorated with vertical semicircular mouldings of brick. This system of decoration is also found in the ziggurats or observatories behind the harem, where the three lower storeys still exist. A winding ramp was carried round this tower, the storeys of which were set back one behind the other, the burnt brick paving of thehuman-headed bulls which flank the portals of the propylaea. From Media it would seem to have derived the great halls of columns and the porticoes of the palaces, so clearly described by Polybius (x. 24) as existing at Ecbatana; the principal difference being that the columns of the stoas and peristyle, which there consisted of cedar and cypress covered with silver plates, were in the Persian palaces built of stone. The ephemeral nature of the one material, and the intrinsic value of the other, are sufficient to account for their entire disappearance; but as Ecbatana was occupied by Darius and Xerxes as one of their principal cities, the stone column, bases and capitals, which still exist there, may be regarded as part of the restoration and rebuilding of the palace; and as they are similar to those found at Persepolis and Susa, it is fair to assume that the source of the first inspiration of Persian architecture came from the Medians, especially as Cyrus, the first king, was brought up at the court of Astyages, the last Median monarch. The earliest Persian palace, of which but scanty remains have been found, was built at Pasargadae by Cyrus. There is sufficient, Plan of Persepolis' Reference A. The Great Staircase B. Propylon C. The Great Palace of Xerxes D. Palace of Darius E. Palace of Xerxes F. Second Propylon G. Palace of ioo columns H. Small Palace '• . . .. N .1111111111t 41111NIIIII llllilipiu_ A IIIIIIIIIIIIII L ramp and the crenellated battlements forming a parapet, portions of which are still in situ. Although not unknown in either Chaldaea or Assyria, the stone column, according to Perrot and Chipiez, found no place in those structures of crude brick of which the real architecture of Mesopotamia consisted. Only one example in stone, in which the shaft and capital together are 3 ft. 4 in. in height, has been found. Two bases of similar design to the capital are supposed to have supported wooden columns carrying an awning. There are representations in the bas-reliefs of kiosks in a garden, the columns in which, with volute capitals, are supposed to have been of wood sheathed in metal, and on the bronze bands of the Balawat gates in the British Museum are representations of the interior of a house with wood columns and bracket capitals, and several awnings carried by posts. Small windows are shown in some of the bas-reliefs, with balustrades of small columns, which were doubtless copied from the, ivory plaques found at Nimrud and now in the British Museum. (R. P. S.)
End of Article: ASSYRIAN
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GEORG ANTON FRIEDRICH AST (1778-1841)

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