Ancient Nineveh: A Fragile Treasure

🧿 Beloved of blessed Ishtar, ancient Nineveh once sat like a jewel upon the banks of the Tigris, where those sacred waters meet the river Khosr.

Artist impression of Assyrian palaces from The Monuments of Nineveh by Sir Austen Henry Layard 1853
The Monuments of Nineveh

In Quest for Gryphon Gold, the adventurer Samir leaves Babylon behind. The caravan with which he travels follows quick-flowing Tigris north, heading for the Taurus Mountains.

Map of Neo-Assyrian Empire 911 BC to 609 BC

Coming up to the Median Wall, built by King Nebuchadnezzar, the travelers cross the spring-swollen river at Opis, a Babylonian city on the river’s east bank. Positioned near the confluence of Tigris and Diyala, this fortress city lies near what will become modern Baghdad.

Next passing through the danger-infested scorched lands, they cross the tributary Lesser Zāb, sighting the ruins of Ashur, once a capital of fallen Assyria, on the Tigris’ western shore. Continuing north, crossing the Greater Zāb, the within view of Calah, another wrecked Assyrian stronghold.

At last, they reach fabled Nineveh. Samir carries this vision of the great city learned at his father’s knee:

Mesopotamian half man half bull shedu or lamassu stone statue

“It is a fortress city, such as the gods might build for themselves, with massive battlements towering above the plain and encircling its vastness. These are pierced by colossal gates through which a god might stride unimpeded and are guarded by giant shedu who stand as a welcome and a warning to any mortal who passes. ‘Enter as friend,’ they say, ‘and be at ease; but enter as enemy at your own peril. We shall know your heart.’

“Inside the gates, wherever you look there are splendors. It is a city of light and sparkling water, with broad streets and great public squares; parks and gardens and tree-lined canals. There are orchards of sweet fruit and a walled hunting park filled with birds and wild creatures wondrous and terrible. The bustling markets and artisan bazaars brim with delights from every corner of the world, and scores of splendid palaces, temples, and public buildings dazzle the eye.

“Upon the western heights of the city—the eminences of gods and kings—Ishtar’s temple rises to the sky and shines in the sun like bright copper. Near stands Sennacherib’s palace where halls and chambers are paneled with glowing alabaster upon which images have been carved of kings and heroes in battle, victory, or the performance of great deeds. There are rooms adorned with gold and silver, and magnificent winged bulls and lion sphinxes guarding the thresholds throughout.” (from Quest for Gryphon Gold)

Artist John Martin's dark and fiery impression of The Fall of Nineveh
The Fall of Nineveh by John Martin (1829)

But war crushed Nineveh in 612 BC, grinding to dust all monuments to her glory, struggles, and achievements. With her destruction and the end of the Assyrian Empire, these things were lost to the world. Never again would the Queen of Heaven’s temple shine like a copper beacon against the blue sky. Never again would the world know Nineveh’s like and, in time, she would fade from memory, but not from importance.

 Located near modern-day Mosul in Iraq, the ancient site of Nineveh waits to be preserved and further explored while looting, vandalism, suburban encroachment, and natural elements threaten its fragile continued existence.

Though the subject of many excavations and exploratory expeditions since 1849, when Sir Austen Henry Layard first located and unearthed the great city, much remains to be done. However, in war-prone corners of the world, preserving the past is rarely a priority. After 2,700 years, the last of glorious Nineveh will disappear unless resolute steps are taken to protect her.             

War is always a thief, robbing men of more than life.       

For more on this topic, there’s an excellent article here that includes a 3D digital recreation of the fortress city:

Browse these images of ancient Mesopotamia for a visual taste of Nineveh and Samir’s journey from Babylon to the Black Sea.

Come back soon to this blog, and I’ll tell you about Assyria’s last queen, who enabled ancient Babylon’s rise to glory and power.

Drawing of excavation of the southwest palace of Nineveh which began in 1847
Early excavation of a palace in Nineveh
Gold gryphon image for Quest for Gryphon Gold, a novel
Quest for Gryphon Gold

One Comment

  1. Pingback:Naqia-Zakutu: Assyria’s Last Great Queen—Part 2 – Patricia Peirson

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