“Discuss critically important architectural principles and urban layouts in Mesopotamia between 4th and 2nd millennia B. C. , citing specifically The Oval Temple at Khafaje. Furthermore, consider how the cultural values of the Protoliterate period were reflected in the architecture and spatial qualities of the time and site. ” Corresponding to modern-day Iraq, the north eastern section of Syria and to a lesser extent south eastern Turkey and smaller parts of south western Iran, Mesopotamia situated between the Tigris and Euphrates river systems (fig. 1).
A gulf was formed from a deeper penetrating sea line in earlier geographical periods, creating a plain of silt deposits that spanned the area between the two rivers, eventually populated by the Akkadians in the north and the Sumerians to the south. A heavily fluctuating environment proved difficult terrain to establish architectural settlement in the area; however an ingenious method of developing bricks was established through the utilisation of abundant mud and bitumen resources. At early stages of development in Mesopotamian architecture a type of plano-convex brick and rectangular one (fig . 2) were invented.
Used in the construction of platforms or walls, the rectangular brick was often baked, set in bitumen and faced with terracotta tiles and rows of pegs. 1 Further required construction materials such as timber and metals were often imported from neighbouring areas. As a result of brick construction, architectural examples of the period are monolithic in appearance, often with rectangular ascending platforms and harshly angled stairs, exemplified in the strict geometry of the Temple of Ur (fig. 3). These structures are known as ziggurats, originating from the Akkadian word ziqquratu, meaning summit or height.
An interesting design emerges with The Oval Temple at Khafaje(fig. 4). Although no archaeological ruins of the Oval Temple remain for examination, images and depictions have surfaced, from which a recreation and interpretation has been attained (fig. 4). Retaining the platform principle of ascending levels accessed via an extensive flight of stairs, the Oval Temple boundaries reflected a repetition of elliptical walls, providing a sanctuary of religious worship, cordoning off the outlying city and dividing spaces within its perimeters.
The design echoes those of nature; a nested shape often created by animals and people alike as a means of instinctive protection, almost womb-like in appearance and function. To section the images of the site we do have, the longest length of the oval shape runs south west to north east, getting narrower towards the south west, creating a front facade facing the prevailing winds from north-east, providing relief from the dry and harsh climate. The elliptical shape lends a strategic benefit to the site, providing adequate protection against attack.
The site in its entirety was relatively modest in relation to other temples of the time, spanning a long distance of 25-30 metres, and a short distance of 20-25. The Oval Temple was built on virgin soil, presumably pertaining to religious reasons, with 4. 5 metre thick packed clay foundations creating a 1. 5 m high initial platform. Open rectangular concourses are created by the walls of the top level temple areas and the shop fronts of various artisans, magazines, store houses and workshops, accessible by a gateway set into the massive interior and exterior boundaries walls.
The whole complex was planned as one architectural unit complete with utilitarian buildings, priests’ quarters, courtyards and the sanctuary itself. In the architecture of the time, a general rule of construction was the corners of the site were to coincide with the cardinal points of the Earth; 2 possibly pertaining to the same religious beliefs that affected other aspects of the building. Religion was a great influence in Mesopotamia architecture. Large imposing doors among the upper levels have been attributed by scholars to the “high” temple function of a portal, through which god could pass on visits to Earth.
The notion of reaching god is also apparent in the ascending platforms, repeating frequently throughout the design in the area and of the time, utilised directly when considering the segregation of the public and priesthood within the urban setting. The ingenious method of subdividing the complex into 3 units of spatial stages created a neat and well defined division of various areas, and moreover, reflected the subdivision or class structure of the period.