Art and architecture of Assyria

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Assyria flourished from the Old Assyrian period in the Middle Bronze Age until the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the Early Iron Age.

Contents

Architecture

Palace-Temples of Khorsabad, Nimroud and Kouyunjik

The capital, Ninus or Nineveh, was taken by the Medes under Cyaxares, and some 200 years after Xenophon passed over its site, then mere mounds of earth. It remained buried until 1845, when Botta and Layard discovered the ruins of the Assyrian cities. The principal remains are those of Khorsabad, 10 miles (16 km) N.E. of Mosul; of Nimroud, supposed to be the ancient Calah; and of Kouyunjik, in all probability the ancient Nineveh. In these cities are found fragments of several great buildings which seem to have been palace-temples. They were constructed chiefly of sun-dried bricks, and all that remains of them is the lower part of the walls, decorated with sculpture and paintings, portions of the pavements, a few indications of the elevation, and some interesting works connected with the drainage, &c.

The structures were built usually on artificial mounds, and approached, it is supposed, by great flights of steps (of which remains composed of black basalt have been found at Khorsabad). They consist of series of halls and chambers of no great size, the largest hall in Sennacherib’s palace at Kouyunjik being only 200 feet (61 m) by 45 feet (14 m), whereas Westminster Hall is 268 feet (82 m) by 68 feet (21 m). In their proportions they are utterly unlike Egyptian structures, and they display the striking peculiarity of being elongated beyond anything known in other styles of architecture; e.g., one of the Kouyunjik halls is 122 feet (37 m) long by 27 wide, another is 218 feet (66 m) long by 25 wide. The great hall at Nimroud, though 162 feet (49 m) by 62, was divided lengthwise in the centre by a wall 12 feet (3.7 m) thick, leaving each side only 25 feet (7.6 m) wide. Another peculiarity of these structures is the immense thickness of the walls. Those of the Kouyunjik hall (27 feet wide) were 15 feet (4.6 m) thick, and those of Nimroud (32 feet wide) were 26 feet (7.9 m) thick. It has, indeed, been reckoned by Mr. Fergusson, that in some of the palaces the area of the walls is as great as that of the chambers. The reason he suggests for this is that these thick walls supported a double row of columns as a clerestory under the roof, so arranged as to give light and air, while excluding the rays of the sun. He covers the halls with flat roofs, supported on columns, which being of wood have rotted or been burnt. An entirely different theory is that of M. Flandin, who studied the subject on the spot. He believes that the halls were vaulted and had small windows at the springing. M. Victor Place has found at Khorsabad several vaults, and also terra cotta tubes, through which he believes that the vaults were lighted, just as domes were in Persia in later times. But no vault has been found large enough to span any of the wide Assyrian halls. Of their elevations there are few traces remaining. At Nimroud, what is supposed to be the tomb of Sardanapalus has its lower part, which is about 20 feet (6.1 m) high, of solid masonry, and the rest of burnt bricks. It has slightly projecting piers, but no ornaments or mouldings. At Khorsabad and the SE palace of Nimroud there is some attempt at decoration, by rude semi-columns, without capitals or bases, arranged in clusters of seven, side by side, the groups being separated by recesses. A few detached pieces of moulding have been found at Khorsabad, but of the very simplest kind, and we have no vestiges of capital or entablature.

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