Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ancient Nineveh: A Fragile Treasure on the Brink

“Beloved of blessed Ishtar, Nineveh sits like a jewel upon the banks of the Tigris where those sacred waters meet the river Khosr.” (The Hounds of Zeus)

In my last post, we left Babylon behind. Just as in The Hounds of Zeus, we now follow quick-flowing Tigris north, heading for the Taurus Mountains. Coming up to the Median Wall, built by King Nebuchadnezzar, we 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, we 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, we discover Calah, another wrecked Assyrian stronghold. Then, at last, we reach fabled Nineveh, as envisioned by Samir, the merchant adventurer.

 “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 The Hounds of Zeus)

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 1842, much remains to be done. However, in a war-torn country in a war-prone corner of the world, priorities rarely include preserving the past. After 2,700 years, the last of glorious Nineveh will disappear unless urgent steps are taken.

War is always a thief, robbing men of more than life.
For more on this topic, there’s an excellent article here: Saving Ancient Nineveh


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