Build a Great Ziggurat

The Great Ziggurat of Ur (Sumerian: 𒂍𒋼𒅎𒅍 or “Etemenniguru,” meaning “temple whose foundation creates aura”) is a Sumerian ziggurat – or step pyramid – built in the city of Ur in the 21st Century BCE – or about 4000 years ago.  Construction started circa 2050-2030 BC and was completed circa 2030-1980 BC

Partially reconstructed facade and the access staircase of the ziggurat. The actual remains of the Neo-Babylonian structure can be seen at the top.

The massive step pyramid measured 64 m (210 ft) in length, 45 m (148 ft) in width and over 30 m (98 ft) in height. The height measurement is only speculative, as just the foundations of the Sumerian ziggurat have survived. Like most ziggurats, the Great Ziggurat was made by stacking sun-baked mud-bricks and using additional mud to seal them together.  This construction technique is relatively effective in a drier climate over the short term, but has resulted in the ziggurat’s collapse over many millennia of rain.

Computer reconstruction of Ur-Nammu’s ziggurat.

urcity.gifThe ziggurat served as an administrative center for the city, and which was a shrine of the moon god Nanna, the patron deity of Ur.

The construction of the ziggurat was finished in the 21st century BCE by King Shulgi, who, in order to win the allegiance of cities, proclaimed himself a god. During his 48-year reign, the city of Ur grew to be the capital of a state controlling much of Mesopotamia.


The king of Ur is seated on his throne, bestowing power on governors who will rule beneath him. The god Nanna, god of the moon, who granted heavenly power to the king – and worshiped in the Great Ziggurat of Ur – is seen above in the form of a crescent moon.

Using supplies found in your classroom (and approved by your teacher) – build a scale model of the Great Ziggurat of Ur.  You should work in cooperation with your peers, in a group the size of your choosing.  Make sure it matches the approximate proportions of the Great Ziggurat – 64 m (210 ft) in length, 45 m (148 ft) in width, and 30 m (98 ft) in height.  Show your math – and be creative in following these directions to build the MOST impressive one in your class! 

After all, a impressive ziggurat will inspire your followers – and unimpressive one will result in a complete collapse of your society…

In Writing/For Discussion

Each group member must provide the dimensions of their model ziggurat in inches and answer the accompanying questions in paragraph form:

  1. What was the significance of the Ziggurat in Sumerian culture?
  2. Can you think of any structures that perform similar functions in modern America? Explain.
  3. Who built the most impressive ziggurat in your class?  What strategies did they follow to accomplish this?

Ziggurat of Ur


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