One of the sections of the Ishtar Gate

Description and IdentificationEdit

The Processional Way of the ancient city of Babylon is a half-mile brick road connecting the outer city of Babylon to the Temple of Marduk.[1] At the entrance is the Gate of Ishtar that features, and the path is lined with ceramic glazed brick walls featuring ornate lions. Nebuchadnezzar II commissioned the construction of the gate in the late 6th century BCE as a symbol of his personal power and the power of the Babylonian empire, and the Processional Way is a tribute to the omnipotence of the gods to whom everything was subject. The gate and Processional Way were the site of the important religious observance of the New Year.[2]

Technical AspectsEdit

The gate and the walls are made of hundreds of standard sized rectangular bricks (roughly 33 cm squared), which were made of clay pressed through a wooden mold, sun-dried and fired, and then glazed either blue or gold. Although the exact glazing process is unknown, it is suggested that a combination of plant ash, sandstone conglomerate and silicate pebbles were melted then cooled.[3] The color-producing minerals were then added and the glaze was melted onto the bricks, which were then fired a second time. The complexity of the work is in the ornate designs that the stacked bricks create, including lions, dragons and bulls, which were made of larger reusable molds to ensure all of the animals appearing on the walls and gates look the same. Each lion is about 2 meters in length and each lion is made up of 46 molded bricks arranged in 11 rows.[4] The rebuilt gate stands at roughly 14 meters high and 30 meters wide, and it has been estimated that there were 120 lions along the street and 575 dragons and bulls, in 13 rows, on the gate.[5]

In as early as 1851, fragments of the glazed bricks were discovered in the ruins of Babylon, but intensified excavation began in 1899 when German architect Robert Koldeway undertook the task with the backing of German bankers and businessmen. Because of the quality and quantity of pieces, the idea of construction was conceived and each piece was numbered and catalogued. Each piece of the hundreds of thousands of pieces was then sent to Berlin where it was desalinized, and in 1928 the reconstruction began.[6] The height of the original gate was difficult to determine as it was rebuilt many times in the past, however a representative replication of the Northern Gate and part of the Processional Way was completed in 1930, and is now housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.[7]


Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate

Local Historical Context Edit

The Gate of Ishtar and the Processional Way were built around 675 BCE in the city of Babylon and commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II. King Nebuchadnezzar II continued the reconstruction of the city after devastation at the hands of the Assyrians and internal rebellions in an attempt to make the city of Babylon into one of the word’s wonders.[8] Among the architectural achievements of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II is the rebuilding and beautifying of the cities temple, the adding of sculptures to the Babylonian Pantheon, and the building of the Hanging Gardens.


A model of the Processional Way

The gate and the Processional Way served mostly a religious purpose for the New Year procession, which marked the beginning of the agricultural year and featured religious festivals and rituals.[9] The relief representations in the blue walls are golden lions were the symbol of the goddess Ishtar, the Mistress of Heaven and the goddess of love and war. Other ancient Babylonian gods that appear in the bricks are Adud and Marduk, illustrated in the Bull and the Dragon, respectively.

Among the well-preserved status of the bricks during the initial excavation is perhaps the most valuable artifact, which are the brick fragments with inscriptions containing statements from Nebuchadnezzar II. The inscription provides the reason for the construction of such a magnificent gate and other works, which in his own words is so “Mankind might gaze upon them in wonder”. He further gives reverence to the great god of Marduk and the clergymen of the city. The walls and gate were among the wonders of the world during the centuries after its construction, and served as a symbol of the magnificence of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II.[10]

The Inscription of the Ishtar Gate:
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nabu, of prudent counsel, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor, who always takes to heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the firstborn son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon.
Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil —following the filling of the street from Babylon—had become increasingly lower. Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water-table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder [11]


Cuneiform script thought to be the ‘dedication plaque’

World Historical ContextEdit

The Processional Way and Ishtar Gate of the ancient city of Babylon functioned to glorify the city of Babylon and exemplified the inordinate cultural advancements under King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was directly commission as a means to make the city one of the wonders of the ancient world. Many great cities throughout history had centerpieces of architecture to their city, and the gates and pathway were central to Babylon as a sign of religion and culture.[12] Many people would have walked through the Ishtar Gate and down Processional Way to the center of the city, viewing the intricate artwork on the walls and humbling in the aura of the overwhelming beauty of the architecture. Many great cities around the world, even today, have streets that are of great cultural importance to society, including Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris and Times Square in New York City. Processional Way is a marvel in its own with its ornate use of colors and its sheer magnitude; it would have been impossible to see the entire wall from a specific location. The entire structure served as a monument rather than having practical uses, and the religious devotion is clear cut in the representation of the gods in their animal form.


"Ancient Babylonia - The Ishtar Gate." Ancient Babylonia - The Ishtar Gate. (accessed May 29, 2014).

"Babylon, ancient city, Mesopotamia." In Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 2009. 1.

Blum, Felicia. 2006. "Panel: Striding Lion, 604-562 BC." School Arts 106, no. 3: 27-28. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 30, 2014).

"Daniel 4:30 ." In The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments. Trenton: I. Collins, 1791.

Dowson, Thomas. "The Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum - Archaeology Travel." Archaeology Travel. (accessed May 30, 2014).

Hays, Christopher B. 2007. "Chirps from the Dust: The Affliction of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:30 in its Ancient Near Eastern Context." Journal Of Biblical Literature 126, no. 2: 305-325. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 28, 2014).

"Ishtar Gate Inscription." Ishtar Gate Inscription. (accessed May 27, 2014).

King, Leo. "The Ishtar Gate." Ceramics Technical May-Oct 2008, no. 26 (2008): 51-53. (accessed May 27, 2014).

McKenzie, John L. Dictionary of the Bible. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. Co., 1965.

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