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Ziggurats and Pyramids

The Ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the Great Pyramids of Egypt are two examples of humanity’s ability to create larger than life monuments, leaving a lasting legacy of their cultures. However, if one studies both of these mysterious monuments and their history, you will find that they contrast in two fundamental ways. The Ziggurats of Mesopotamia were product Sumerian dedication to the worship of their gods and goddesses; while the Great Pyramids were built as magnificent tombs by the Egyptians, whose culture and religion was centered around the human afterlife and spiritual underworld.

Historically, Sumerian culture had a population skilled in metal-working and writing in cuneiform script. These two notable contributions were first achieved by Sumerian scholars and craftsmen. Their Ziggurats, of course, are the most memorable achievement of their time in the history of humanity. Built of mud bricks and elaborately decorated on both the inside and out, these impressive structures were interestingly pyramidal. Sumerian’s preference for cylindrical forms was not reflected in the stepped and stacked geometrical style of the ziggurats.

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Cut with elaborate stairways and angled ramps, the Sumerians built temples at their apex so it would function as an “offering table” to their deities. Ziggurats also functioned as glorification monuments to the Sumerian gods for the wealth of the city and its rulers. Sumerians held a high regard for religious ceremony and rituals to both appease and connect with their deities, and their Ziggurats reflected their dedication to creating a magnificent place to worship.

The Egyptian culture that left behind the Great Pyramids had a very different purpose in mind when erecting the 450 feet tall pyramid of the Egyptian King Khufu. The limestone and granite pyramids reflected Egyptian preference for strong rectilinear lines and block like shapes had humble beginnings as a Mastaba tomb design. A Mastaba was a low rectangular burial structure built to protect a deceased king’s body, provide a place so his followers could worship his memory, and to give his “ka”( life- force) a realm to govern in the afterlife.

In the Egyptian religion, it was believed that a spirit needed furnishing for their afterlife; therefore a larger and more complex tomb design was needed. Built of polished fine stone blocks, the elegantly decorated but hidden vaults and chambers were constructed within the pyramid to protect the deceased body and valuable items left for the use of the king in the afterlife. One can see why both the Sumerians and the Egyptian were motivated to create impressive structures that reflected their beliefs.

For the Sumerians, we can imagine their gods and goddesses were pleased with their rituals held in elaborate temples built like high altars. Meanwhile, the spirits of Egyptian kings navigated the underworld protected by magic spells and pampered by the treasures the pyramids guarded for them. In spite of these differences in cultural and religious beliefs, the Sumerians Ziggurats and the Great Pyramids stand to this day as a monument to the ingenuity and skills of the ancient forefathers of architectural art.


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