The ziggurats or pyramidal mounds of the Mesopotamians (a civilization of a time period that spanned from before the Egyptians and their pyramids into that time) have a different function and development than that of the pyramids of Egypt. These ziggurats are in essence mud-brick mountains or platforms for the most important temples. They are a meeting place between the heavens and earth. The stairs of the ziggurat are to human scale and therefore are for climbing while the stair-like structure of the Egyptian pyramid is not - it may only be an analogy to a stairway to heaven and a fitting result of its construction. The top of the pyramid is not a place to be reached physically - it is more about a mental journey or connection.

Archaeologists dig up some of Nebuchadnezzar's legacy

Boraippa, Iraq -December 3, 1998--AP

After 20 years of digging, Austrian archaeologists say they've determined the design of a Mesopotamian ziggurat -- a temple tower -- built by King Nebuchadnezzar some 2,500 years ago. The temple tower consisted of seven terraces built of millions of mud bricks and rose 231 feet, the scientists say. It probably was similar to the many ziggurats built by Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler who ordered the destruction of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, they add.

The temple of Borsippa, 75 miles south of Baghdad, was constructed atop the ruins of a smaller tower from the second millennium B.C. Nebuchadnezzar's temple was dedicated to Nabu, the god of science and learning in Mesopotamia and the king's protector. Wilfrid Allinger-Csollich of the University of Innsbruck said that of all the temple towers built during the Nebuchadnezzar's 40-year reign, the Borsippa ziggurat has best survived the ravages of time.

The Austrians removed thousands of tons of debris from the mound that gradually built up around the tower over the ages and uncovered most of the ziggurat's remains, which still rise to 172 feet. The work revealed the tower's exact dimensions, Allinger-Csollich said. "We did not use high-tech, but rudimentary means. We just counted the number of bricks," he said.

The square bricks used by Nebuchadnezzar had standard dimensions -- 13 1/4 inches on each side and 3 1/4 inches in depth. The Austrians used mechanical shovels to reach the foundation, which they measured at 297 by 297 feet. More than 1 million fired bricks were used for the first level's 3.3-foot-tall outer wall, Allinger-Csollich said. Given the Borsippa tower's height of 231 feet, "you can imagine how many more millions (of bricks) were needed in the construction of the outer walls of other stages," he said. The builders filled the inside of each level with tens of millions of unfired bricks held in place with cedar beams brought from Lebanon.

The Austrians determined the tower had three staircases and are in the process of calculating how many steps each had. Their picture of the temple's exterior is almost complete. The first two levels were covered with bitumen and were black. The third, fourth and fifth were decorated with blue-glazed bricks and possibly adorned with bulls and lions. The sixth and seventh terraces, close to the sanctuary, were wholly made of mud brick.

"For cultic purposes the Mesopotamians thought mud to be the purest of substances," said Helga Trenkwalder, leader of the seven-member Austrian team. "On top was Nabu's residence with rooms for servants and priests and wings for his wife, Tachmitum, his children and daughters. It must have looked really fantastic." Trenkwalder said Borsippa, being the residence of Nabu, was the center of learning in Mesopotamia.

"There must have been a big library of cuneiform tablets here, but we have missed it so far," she said. Among her finds are several tablets and a foundation stone with inscriptions detailing why and how Nebuchadnezzar constructed the tower in Borsippa. One text says the king wanted the Borsippa built on the same design as that of the Tower of Babel, of which only the foundation survives in Babylon seven miles to the north.

Another text quotes Nebuchadnezzar as declaring that Nabu's tower should reach the skies and be no less in grandeur than that of Babel, which was dedicated to the god Marduk. Allinger-Csollich said the team's evidence from texts and excavations show a tower of "greater dimensions than ours existed in Babylon." Iraq has another impressive ziggurat in Ur, which was built in about 2500 B.C. But Nawal al-Mutawali of the Iraq Museum said Borsippa's remains are "greater, higher and more elegant." Dony Youkhanna, assistant director of Iraq's Antiquities Department, said the government is trying to persuade the United Nations to declare Borsippa a world heritage site in order to give it international protection.

MESOPOTAMIAN ZIGGURAT Ziggurat at Ur, c. 2100 B.C.

The Sumerian temple was a cosmic axis, a vertical bond between heaven and earth and the earth and the underworld and a horizontal bond between the lands. It is built on seven levels, it represents seven "heavens" and planes of existence, the seven planets and the seven metals that are associated with them along with the corresponding colors.

Ziggurats are represented frequently in legends of The Ark of the Convenant, in the Tabinacle on the alters in Christian churches, etc...which all are said to house the Divine source and be the "living" connection to God.

An example of a Ziggurat is the Step Pyramid.