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Assur (Ashur), Iraq

Assur, Ashur, or Assyria, 110 km south of Mosul and 280 km to the north of Baghdad, was the first capital of the vast Assyrian Empire anciently called "The Land of Subarum" which included Iraq, Syria, Anatolia, Iran, Egypt and parts of Arabia.

Historians believe that Assur was inhabited for the first time in the 3rd millennium BC, and went on as an inhabited city up to the 2nd century AD. It had been a human settlement long before it became a capital, and it was known to have come under the dominion of Uruk (Akkad), of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, and of the Babylonians in the 31st year of King Hammurabi's reign.

Ruins of Assur Ziggurat

Assur (today called Qal'at Shergat) lies on a stony hill overlooking the Tigris on the east near Himrin mountains believed by the Assyrians to be the abode of their major god Assur. Thus, it was the religious capital of Assyria at large periods of Assyrian history, and the center for worship of the god Ashur and the goddess Ishtar/Inanna.

Assur which was fortified by inner and outer walls, with several gateways, contained a large number of important religious buildings, about 34 temples, and 3 palaces as 7th century BC documents revealed. Only few of these have been excavated.

Its most important and striking sight today is the Ziggurat, which is a great construction built of backed bricks on the top of a rectangular platform composed of several layers, devoted to the god Assur, as well as the ground temple nearby devoted to the same god and called "Temple of the Universe". There are also temples devoted to the gods of the sun and the moon, and one with two towers sacred to Anu, god of the sky, and Adad, god of storms.

Stone Relief Carving from Assur

The city overflowed its walls, and many buildings were erected beyond them, notably the Akitu temple where the New Year Festivals were celebrated. It was built by Sennacherib on the river bank (now the old course of the Tigris) and had it surrounded by extensive gardens.

You can also see a recently reconstructed building: the Arab Palace with the four ewans which were once decorated with plaster arabesques. It dates back to the Arab reign in Hatra some two thousand years ago. In the course of their excavations, Iraqi archaeologists discovered the Arabic name of the architect who had designed the palace on one of its supports, which justifies calling it the Arab Palace.

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