Iraq – Babylon

Excavations and development of the site of Babylon
Giovanni Bergamini (scavo), Roberto Parapetti (progetto di valorizzazione)

In 1974 the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) entrusted the Centro Scavi di Torino with a preliminary project of development and restoration of the site of Babylon. Main goals of the project were to slow down the decay of the structures caused by erosion and aquifer resurgence, and to ease the reading of the archaeological site. Moreover, between 1987 and 1989 surveys and excavations were conducted in the area south of Esagil, named "SHU-AN-NA".

Babylon, 90 km south of Baghdad, was at the beginning of the II millennium BC the main political, cultural and religious centre of Central Mesopotamia. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the First World War, he German Archaeological Mission directed by Robert Koldewey precisely defined the city plan and the main building, from the Neo-Babylonian time to the rise of Islam. The high phreatic aquifer did not allow investigating the city of Hammurapi.

The Italian project started in September-December 1974 with a topographic relief of the archaeological area. Subsequently, a critical review of the stratigraphic results of the German expedition led to suggest a new dating for the foundation remains of the tower: as the first steps of the flights are considerably lower than the average high of the river of Neo-Babylonian time, the foundations of the tower should date back to Old-Babylonian time (Bergamini, Parapetti, 1980). The first reclamation and development project foresaw the relocation of the railway track Baghdad-Basrah and the main national N-S road that ran close to eastern section of the inner walls. The reading of the city plan foresaw the characterization of its outlines thanks to the planting of lines of trees: palms along the city walls and vineyards along the moats and the ancient river bed (Parapetti 1979). A second project, focused on the South Palace, suggested the filling of the ditches up to the base of the walls in order to allow the reading of the plan, preserving and restoring the paving of the courtyards. The foundation walls would have been visible thanks to the creation of underground rooms placed below the courtyard, which could have been used as exhibition and didactic areas (Parapetti, 1981). The third project, focused on the Ishtar Gate, foresaw the levelling of the inner and outer part of the processional way in order to appreciate its decorated bricks without the help of stairways (Parapetti, 1982).

Between 1987 and 1989 surveys and excavations were conducted in the "SHU-AN-NA" area, south of the Esagil (Bergamini, 1988). The area corresponded to the Ishin Aswad, where the German expedition had unearthed the remains of the Ishara and Ninurta temples. Its morphology was similar to the one of the South Palace before the German excavations, with large ditches caused by the dismantlement of backed brick structures. On the basis of the excavation data, it is possible to hypothesize the existence of an ample terrace of Neo-Babylonian time. The excavations, interrupted in 1990 because of the outbreak of the Gulf war, led to recognizing a large embankment that, starting from Achaemenid times, included a portion of the inner city walls. The available data suggest that the raising, in Neo-Babylonian times, of the two processional ways (the Ishar and the Nabu one) led to the creation od two "acropoleis" linked to the main roads of the city.

"Babylon from above"

Babylon from above. Remote sensing and teledetection of the city territory
Carlo Lippolis

Research methods, such as the teledetection from aerial photographs, satellite images and the geographic information system, constitute a fundamental approach to get a scientific overview of the understanding of the territory and its resources, for the past and the present. This information system, today widely used in archaeology, is a helpful starting point for future works on the field and to handle the cultural heritage. The Centro Scavi of Turin in cooperation with the University of Turin (Dipartimento SAAST), the University of Padua (Dipartimento DAUR) and the Land Technologies and Services, carried out in 2008-2011 a research project on the territory of Babylon based on the documentation collected by the Italian-Iraqi Institutes for Archaeology of Baghdad in the years before the war. The research is concerning the “semeiotic” survey of the urban territory according to the remote sensing and the interpretation of the aerial photographs taken in different times (‘30s, ‘70s, ’80) compared to recent satellite images.

Reading these images allows to identify and interpret not only all the cropmarks and shadowmarks on the surface, but also deeper and more extensive anomalies which are caused either by the topography and morphology of the ground or by the presence of structures and are probably related to different stages of the development of the city. In particular, processed photographs highlighted five or six reticular “urban systems” with different orientations inside the city walls (and partly outside). These systems are not limited to a single building or a specific sector of the city, but recur also in different areas of the city territory. Beside the accurate setting up and study of these alignments, still remains to be punctually defined the chronology between these systems and the relations between them and the city quarters so far recognized. Of course, at the moment, a direct investigation of the ground is still impossible and consequently these results remain preliminary and potentially liable for substantial correction in the future. However, such a study could represent the starting point for future researches on the field, the base for a new evaluation of the archaeological remains, and a good occasion for new discussions. In the same years, the Centro Scavi Torino partecipated to the project "The Future of Babylon" headed by the World Monuments Fund aiming at the production of archaeological and thematic maps, at the study of the Babylon’s ancient and modern landscape and at the making of a management plan for this site.



1977 «Levels of Babylon Reconsidered», Mesopotamia, XII, 111-152.
1988 «Excavations in Shu Anna, Babylon 1987», Mesopotamia XXIII, 5-17.
1990, «Preliminary Report on the 1988-1989 Operations at Babylon, Shu-Anna», Mesopotamia, XXV, 5-12.
2008 «La mission italienne, 1974-1989», in Babylone (Catalogue de l’exposition), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Paris, 529-531.

2004 «La ceramica dal sondaggio di Shu-Anna a Babilonia», Mesopotamia, XXXIX, 93-167.

2008a «Babylone sous la domination perse», in Babylone (Catalogue de l’exposition), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Paris, 239-248.
2008b «Les dominations grecque et parthe», in Babylone (Catalogue de l’exposition), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Paris, 251-292.
2008c «Les premiers voyageurs», in Babylone (Catalogue de l’exposition), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Paris, 505-507.

2008 «Un projet d’analyse archéologique», in Babylone (Catalogue de l’exposition), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Paris, 532-533.

2011 «Babylon’s urban layout and territory from above», Mesopotamia, XLVI, 1-8.
2013 «Past and present of ancient Babylon seen from above», in La tour de Babylone. Études et recherches sur les monuments de Babylone (Actes du colloque du 19 avril 2008 au Musée du Louvre, Paris), B. André-Salvini (ed.), Roma, 147-163.

2008 « Babylon 1978-2008», Mesopotamia, LXIII, 219-253

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