Architecture (Part 11): Assyrian Palaces
Temples with & without ziggurats were built at Assyria. But by the late Assyrian period, palaces were much more important & more numerous, emphasizing the monarchy’s importance.
In the 800’s BC, Ashurnasirpal II restored & enlarged the city of Nimrud, and had a palace built within its walls. The north-west wing was the most public, and at the north was a large public outer court. A suite of apartments (including for the women) was on the east side, and a series of large banqueting halls on the south side.
This would become the traditional Assyrian palace plan. Palace remains at Nineveh, Nimrud and Kouyunjik, built during the 700’s & 600’s BC, have similar plans, and are built on elevated platforms, surrounded by terraces.
Ashurnasirpal II’s palace. Three huge doors on the outer court’s south wall led to the throne room, which was long & narrow, and ran nearly the whole width of the courtyard.
A flight of steps led to the palace, and the main entrance was guarded by lamassu – winged stone bulls made of stone. They protected the gates from evil, with a lion’s fierceness, an eagle’s far-sightedness, a bull’s strength, and a human’s intelligence.
Lamassu at the palace entrance (destroyed by ISIS in 2015).
Below is a drawing of what an Assyrian palace may have looked like. This palace has an elevated, buttressed terrace, a flight of steps lined with carved figures as homage to the king, an open upper storey to admit light, and a roof ridge with battlements.
Assyrian bas-reliefs depicted powerful, life-like men and animals. The sculptors were knowledgeable of anatomy & movement, and how to carve it; at the same time they stylized the subject for ornament.
Orthostats (large stone panels) were arranged in tiers on high walls, and as friezes on low walls. Fierce beasts, bulls, griffins and lions were common subjects. Sometimes the king was shown killing them, to demonstrate his bravery, and symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
Pavement slab from the North Palace at Nineveh. The outer border is decorated with a pattern based on the lotus flower, similar to Ancient Egyptian ornamentation. Narrow bands of circular rosettes divide them from the inner border of stylized flowers, and another stylized flower in the centre.
Sculptured ornamental border from Nineveh. It depicts lamassu and stylized plants, which are perhaps a sacred tree. Borders of flowers & animals were sometimes painted on ceiling beams, with gilding & precious stones to add richness & contrast.
Sculpted panels in the ruins of the Palace of Nineveh show some of the architectural details made by the Assyrian builders (or possibly Greek builders). On of these details was voluted capitals (capitals with a spiral, scroll-like ornament on top), and they looked similar tot he Greek Ionic & Corinthian capitals, which also had volutes.
An Ionic capital on the Treasury Building (Washington D.C., USA).
The Obelisk of Divanubara (Nineveh, c.800 BC) was built with sun-baked and kiln-burned bricks. It tapered towards the top, with stepped layers on top. Carvings and inscriptions showed that it had a funerary purpose.
Obelisk of Divanubara.