Babylon the Great Citadel, Iraq's Most Mysterious Monument



Babylon was one of the most famous cities of antiquity.

Babylon was one of the most famous cities of antiquity. It lies roughly 85 miles (137km) south of Baghdad, at a strategic location between central, southern and northwestern Iraq. For centuries, Babylon was the capital of a series of great Mesopotamian kingdoms.

The ancient city is best known for its role in the biblical Book of Genesis. According to legend, it was founded by Sargon II's grandson Nimrod after he killed his own father and usurped the throne. Some versions declare that Sargon II later captured Nimrod and impaled him on a stake to die.

The city lies roughly 85 miles (137km) south of Baghdad, and is at a crossroads between central, southern and northwestern Iraq.

It's a good idea to start off with some geography, because the first thing to know about Babylon is that it isn't a small town in upstate New York. It's an ancient city in Iraq. That said, I can hear you saying, "Where in Iraq?" The answer is: all of the above, if you look at it one way.

The city lies roughly 85 miles (137km) south of Baghdad, and is at a crossroads between central, southern and northwestern Iraq. If you're looking for it on Google Earth, don't bother—all that's there are some fragments of mudbrick walls and the outlines of an old cemetery dating back to the Parthian Empire (247 BCE–224 CE). My guide explained that while these ruins are undoubtedly ancient Babylon—and no doubt part of King Nebuchadnezzar II’s 7th-century BCE palace complex—they aren’t what we came for.



For centuries, Babylon was the capital of a series of great Mesopotamian kingdoms.

  • Babylon was a city located in ancient Mesopotamia on the Euphrates River. It became one of the most important cities in the ancient world after Hammurabi founded the Babylonian Empire.

  • The name of the city is thought to be derived from Bab-ili, meaning "The Gateway to God."

  • A succession of cities were built near or on top of one another over centuries. These include: Nippur, Akkad, Sippar, Ur, Uruk and finally Babylon itself.

  • When Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 331 BC, he made Babylon his capital and it once again became a great center for learning and culture.

From the 18th century BC to 90s BC, it was ruled by the Kassite dynasty.

The Kassites were horse riders from the land of Iran. They took power in Babylon and held sway for 400 years. Their rule was guided by a king, but he did not have absolute power.

They worshipped a god called Marduk and Assyrian records say they were masters of warfare who built an army of chariots which swept across western Asia conquering all in their path. The Kassites faded out around the eleventh century BC, finally disappearing completely by the ninth century BC



In 1492 BC, Hammurabi took control of Babylon.

You may recall the Code of Hammurabi from your high school history classes, but in case you don't, here's a quick refresher: it set forth the laws of Mesopotamia at the time and addressed everything from business dealings to family relationships. For example, if a man sold his daughter as a slave? Her new master was required to take her as a wife. If her husband divorced her later on? The new husband had to return payment for his bride and she could return to her father's home.

In addition to creating such forward-thinking legislation (for its time), Hammurabi also conquered areas including modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan—and paid tribute to Marduk by building and restoring monuments in Babylon. Modern archaeologists have unearthed evidence that suggests Hammurabi even built an underground canal system that helped bring water into the city during this period.

In 626BC, King Nabopolassar ousted the Assyrians from the city.

In 626BC, King Nabopolassar ousted the Assyrians from the city, and in a few short years defeated them at Nineveh in 612BC. The New Babylonian Empire was established, and he left his kingdom to his son Nebuchadnezzar II. It is during this period that many of the monuments we associate with Babylon were built.

After his defeat of the Assyrians at Nineveh in 612BC, Nabopolassar died and left control to his son Nebuchadnezzar II who inherited one of the largest empires in world history stretching from Egypt to Persia.

Nebuchadnezzar II was one of the most powerful kings of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ruling over a huge kingdom that stretched from Egypt to Persia. His military conquests were instrumental in building his empire and he was able to grow Babylon into one of the largest cities on Earth.

He is known for destroying the First Temple of Jerusalem, thus beginning the Jewish Exile from Israel. He also built what is perhaps his most famous monument: The Ishtar Gate.



Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt Babylon into a royal city on a monumental scale. It was surrounded by an outer wall with battlements and towers about 2 miles (3km) long on each side.

Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt Babylon into a royal city on a monumental scale. It was surrounded by an outer wall with battlements and towers about 2 miles (3km) long on each side. A huge inner wall nearly encircled Temple Hill with its ziggurat, the Etemenanki Tower, and other temples dedicated to Marduk.

During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II also constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—a legendary hanging garden that lay within the outer walls of Babylon. The purpose it served is unknown although it might have been built to help alleviate homesickness among those he brought from their native lands to live in his city (Babylon was then home to more than 200,000 residents).

A huge inner wall nearly encircled Temple Hill and its ziggurat, Etemenanki Tower, as well as other temples dedicated to Marduk.

The outer walls of the city were 1,800 feet long and 150 feet high. Six gates allowed access to the outer walls. On the other side of the outer walls, a huge inner wall nearly encircled Temple Hill and its ziggurat, Etemenanki Tower, as well as other temples dedicated to Marduk.

This construction was all part of Babylon’s bid to become an autonomous political and economic power in Mesopotamia. And it worked, at least for a while: by 539 B.C., under King Nabonidus, Babylon controlled an empire that stretched from modern-day Syria through southern Iraq and into Arabia. This empire was made possible thanks to massive immigration—Babylon had one of the largest multi-cultural populations in Mesopotamia—and trade along the Euphrates River made possible by the new canal system. The slave trade also prospered under King Nabonidus.

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