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The Great Ziggurat of Ur – Aligns to Summer Solstice Sunrise

Great Ziggurat Ur

The Great Ziggurat in the Sumerian city of Ur, which aligns to the summer solstice sunrise. Hardnfast [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Ziggurat of Ur is a massive mud-brick stepped temple located in Iraq, which aligns to the summer solstice sunrise.1

Ur Ziggurat being excavated.

Photo of the Ziggurat of Ur being excavated circa 1925-26. Taken by Leon Legrain [CC BY-NC-SA 4.0], via Ur Online

The structure has been rebuilt and modified repeatedly over the millennia. The earliest parts of the current monument date back at least 4,000 years,2 and archaeological digs have discovered it rests upon successive layers of even earlier structures.3

The earliest known culture associated with the site is that of the ancient Sumerians, but the city has also been ruled by others, such as the Akkadian and the Babylonian empires, until it was ultimately abandoned in the 4th century BC, apparently due to changing environmental conditions.4

The Ziggurat in its present form is 205 by 142 feet (63 by 43 m) at its base,5 making it similar in size to the stepped pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcan in Chitchen Itza, Mexico. The ziggurat’s stepped design is also reminiscent of the great mounds of North America, such as Monk’s Mound at Cahokia.6

Ziggurat of Ur reconstruction

Hypothetical reconstruction of the ziggurat according to its excavator Leonard Woolley. By user:wikiwikiyarou [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza in Mexico

Temple of Kukulcan in Mexico, a stepped structure with similar base area to the ziggurat. By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monk's Mound Cahokia

Monk’s Mound at Cahokia in Illinois, USA, a stepped temple structure made of earth. By Skubasteve834 (EN.Wikipedia) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Site Alignments and Geometry

Professor Bryan Penprase describes some of the important geometrical properties and solar alignments that were incorporated into the Ziggurat’s design:

[The levels have] dimensions that follow numerical ratios important to Sumerians. The proportion of the width and length for the ground level are very close to an exact ratio of 3:2 […] while the second level maintains a dimension of 4:3 […]. Access to the upper levels was from a celestially aligned northeastern face oriented towards the summer solstice sunrise, with a grand staircase facing the first rays of the summer Sun.7
Ziggurat of Ur Staircase Aligns to Summer Solstice Sunrise

The monumental staircase at the Ziggurat of Ur, which aligns to the summer solstice sunrise. Public domain photo found here.

Archaeoastronomer James Q. Jacobs also notes some precise relationships between the latitude of Ur and several other ancient sites including Gobekli Tepe—a remarkable discovery considering that Gobekli Tepe is accepted to be at least 12,000 years old, whereas Ur is generally assumed to be much younger.8 This apparent relationship between Ur and Gobekli Tepe suggests Ur may have a prehistoric past much more ancient than what is currently recognized.

Showing the summer solstice sunrise alignment with the monument. Image created with SunCalc, using imagery © 2017 CNES / Airbus, map data © 2017 Google.

The Ziggurat

“Ziggurat” is a term used to describe a type of structure found throughout Mesopotamia and Iran. They are formed of stacked layers with successively smaller footprints to create a stepped structure. Researchers believe the earliest ziggurats appeared approximately 5,000 years ago9 but have suggested that they may be a later development of an earlier type of structure consisting of temples on raised platforms, which have been dated as far back as the Ubaid period (9,500 to 6,800 years before present).10

The purpose of these structures is debated by scholars, but most agree that they had a ritual, ceremonial, and spiritual purpose; the Greek historian Herodotus, who was an eye witness to the ziggurat at Babylon as it existed in his day (5th century BC), described a shrine where important ceremonies were conducted.11

Ziggurat being excavated.

Photo of the ziggurat in 1930. The triple staircase is still visible but the photo illustrates the elements of the present structure that are due to modern reconstruction. Photo of the Ziggurat of Ur being excavated circa 1925-26. [CC BY-NC-SA 4.0], via Ur Online

The most significant excavations of Ur and the Great Ziggurat were conducted over a 12-year period beginning in 1922 by archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley. The ziggurat first revealed by these excavations was not the same structure we see today, as much of the monument now has elements of modern reconstruction based on how scholars believe it once looked.12

The Great Ziggurat in a form that we might recognize today dates back to the time of King Ur-Nammu of the  Third Dynasty (approximately 4100 years before present).13 While only two layers are visible today, it is thought the structure built by Ur-Nammu had three layers with a shrine atop it and walls that were angled to create the perception of being straight.14 Woolley dug deep underneath and discovered that the present structure sits atop an older temple from the Early Dynastic period (2900 – 2350 BC) which itself rests upon even more archaic remains.15

The City of Ur: Capital of a Sumerian Kingdom

Today the ancient city of Ur is located within the perimeter of a US Air Force base in Iraq. The location is desolate, encircled by a “wasteland at the edge of a war zone.”16 Temperatures in the harsh desert climate can soar upwards of 120°F (49°C), and the monument sees few tourists aside from occasional groups of soldiers.17

Sumerian Man in Prayer

Statue of a Sumerian man with hands clasped in prayer. Dated to 2340 BC. By Applejuice (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of years ago, however, Ur was a flourishing urban center in a fertile area and the capital of a Sumerian kingdom that ruled over much of the region known historically as Mesopotamia,18 a Greek word meaning “the land between two rivers” (referring to the Tigris and Euphrates). In ancient times, the Euphrates had a different course that ran closer to Ur, making it a port city with easy access to the Persian Gulf for trade and also enabling abundant agriculture based on the river, likely similar to the irrigation agriculture practiced in ancient Egypt.19

The origins of Sumerian culture reach back far into pre-history. Researchers have suggested  that Sumer may have been initiated by a seafaring civilization that had its origins elsewhere,20 and Sumerian texts also speak of a series of divine kings that ruled in times before a catastrophic flood devastated the land—a parallel with other ancient cultures that descended from the civilization of the sun.21

  1. Bryan E. Penprase, The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization (New York, 2011: Springer), 226. 

  2. “Ur,” The Oxford Companion to Archaeology (2 ed.), June 10, 2014, accessed August 19, 2017,

  3. Leonard Woolley, Ur Excavations Volume V: The Ziggurat and Its Surroundings (London: The British Museum, 1939), 1. 

  4. “Ur,” The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. 

  5. “Ur,” The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. 

  6. This comparison was suggested by Penprase, Power of Stars, 201. 

  7. Penprase, Power of Stars, 205. 

  8. Graham Hancock, Magicians of the gods: the forgotten wisdom of Earths lost civilization (London: Coronet, 2016), 356-357. 

  9. Harriet Crawford, Sumer and the Sumerians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 86. 

  10. Ibid, 20. 

  11. Ibid, 86. 

  12. Michael Taylor, “The Ziggurat Endures,” Archaeology 64, no. 2 (2011): 47. 

  13. Woolley, Ur Excavations, 24. 

  14. Crawford, Sumer, 87. 

  15. Woolley, Ur Excavations, 1. 

  16. Taylor, “Ziggurat Endures,” 50. 

  17. Ibid, 47. 

  18. “Ur,” The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. 

  19. Donald Alexander MacKenzie, Footprints of Early Man (Blackie & Son: London & Glasgow, 1941), 112. 

  20. Ibid, 111 

  21. The Sumerian King List (translation found here) describes eight antediluvian kings who ruled for almost 400,000 years in five sacred cities before “the flood swept over.” This parallels myths recorded in ancient Egypt and in Hindu tradition

About the author

Justin Narovski

Justin Narovski is a contributing writer at The Spiritual Sun, where he explores the Religion of the Sun as a researcher and practitioner. He has been a student of the spiritual and mystical since 2002 and is a published history writer. Today, his research explores the Religion of the Sun across the ages. He has a particular interest in alternative history and the early origins of the Civilization of the Sun, and he traces its legacy through descendant cultures, megalithic and sacred sites, and ancient spiritual texts.


  • Looking again at this monument I notice that winter solstice alignments may have influenced the construction of this monument.

    Using SunCalc I see that winter solstice sunrise today aligns with the south eastern corner and the direction of the nearby buildings, including the National Museum and what’s called Ur Dos Caldeus. Winter solstice sunset is directly opposite to the summer solstice sunrise entrance passageway.

    • That’s an intriguing idea Alex. I can see what you mean looking at SunCalc.

      It does seem quite common for sacred sites to have multiple alignments, often based on viewing the sun align with one structure from the vantage point of another. So it does seem a possibility that this site was designed this way, although I don’t know much about the second structure and its history to validate how plausible that is.

  • Very interesting read, it is a shame that the access to this site is limited, due to all the destruction and war on our planet.

  • What a great article. It’s amazing just how many of these ancient structures were aligned to the rising sun on the summer solstice and how many cultures celebrated the solstice. How stunning and magical it must have been to watch the sun rise up that grand staircase. This seems to be yet another major engineering and mathematical/geometrical feat for its time.

    There again seems to be a link with this early culture to ancient seafarers who traveled afar.

    So, I enjoyed reading the Kings List too – fascinating. I had heard that many people lived extraordinary long lives (compared with today) in the distant past, but had never heard of people living many thousands of years. I found the details for some on the list quite incredible, eg, that “En-dara-ana ruled for 420 years, 3 months, and 3½ days”.

    I particularly liked reading that “Etana, the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and put all countries in order, became king; he ruled for 1,500 years”.

    It’s incredible that records of their existence still remains today.

    Very interesting, thanks.

    • I enjoyed all those details too Sue, quite incredible really. Suddenly all those “history characters” or even “mythology characters” become real, people who lived quite different lives from the ones we are living today. I wonder if it was a spiritual fall that caused the life-span of humans to be so drastically reduced. It would be wonderful to live so long… especially having more time in one lifetime to change spiritually and progress.

  • This was great to read, thank you Justin for pulling out all those connections, especially about the connection of the Sumerian civilisation to the pre-flood sea-faring wisdom bringers.

    I only knew about Sumer civilisation thanks to my mom, who used to read the books of Vojtech Zamarovsky ( during 80-ties. This Slovak writer wrote many books on ancient Mediterranean nations, including his book called “At the beginning, there was Sumer” on history of the Ancient Sumerians. I have never read the book myself though, but now I am inspired to have a look. 🙂

  • That structure really is incredibly huge, and I’m surprised it isn’t more famous given how impressive it is. Like others have also mentioned, I’m not all that familiar with the ancient culture of Sumer, compared to say Egypt, which tends to get a lot of historical focus.

    But not only do we hear much less about ancient Sumer generally, you also don’t really hear much about Sumerian sites aligning to the sun like you do with famous sites in Egypt, or even for that matter compared to the well-known sites of Europe, Mesoamerica or Asia like Angkor Wat. In fact I wasn’t aware of any confirmed Sumerian sites that had alignments to the sun before Justin wrote about this. This confirms the Sumerians did in fact build major sites with these alignments too. Thanks for pulling all this together Justin and illustrating that so clearly.

    Their architecture seems distinctive in that they apparently built massive structures using bricks instead of masonry. I wonder if this was the largest brick building in the world in its time.

  • What an amazing temple; it looks just enormous! The shot of the staircase where you’re looking up to the top is especially impressive. I can just imagine what the sun would look like rising through the middle of the staircase at the top. It must have been so inspiring to the people who used it to properly observe and celebrate the annual path of the sun.

    And to think that this temple was built on top of other more ancient remains. Just incredible, I wonder just how far back this location was being used for ceremonial purposes.

  • Thank Justin for this great article! To be honest, I now expect pretty much every ancient sacred sites to align to the solstice and equinox 😉 as it seems soooooo many of them do, which makes me realize how encompassing the religion of the sun was…

    And it’s one thing for a structure to be aligned to the cardinal points but to be aligned to the solstice sunrise shows planning and care in observations, with careful calculations.

    The stair case is incredible, I can imagine the rays of the sun slowly going up it as it rose in the sky, until it would reach and illuminate the shrine. Somehow the stepped made me think of ‘stages’. Such mystery held within these ancient structures 😮

    Looking at the older photo with the 2 other staircases on each side, it made me wonder if they aligned with the sunrise/sunset on the equinox? It could be perspective, but from the photograph they don’t seem to be at 90 degree exactly with each other. And the multiple sides made me also wonder about their purpose, like could there have been a play of light and shadows as well with this structure as in Kulkulcan?

  • Thanks for putting this together Justin. I felt glued to the screen reading about this site. The Sumerian period is so fascinating and seems so underrated compared to other established accounts of ancient history, as though all you hear about is ancient Egypt, but really, advanced civilisations were alive and kicking in so many parts of the world.

    I would love to find out more about the ancient sites of the Middle East, and their spiritual beginnings.

    • Yes I think there is a lot to be uncovered in this part of the world, much of which has received comparatively little public attention. I also noticed that other sites and ziggurats in the area appear to have clear alignments too (hopefully we can look deeper into them in the future). Like others I knew very little about ancient Mesopotamian cultures before starting to look into it. Unfortunately many potentially interesting sites in the region are located in dangerous areas today, making them hard to study. In at least one confirmed case an ancient city was bulldozed completely by extremists after they took over the region. It is tragic really.

  • Very interesting Justin. Mesopotamia feels like such a mystical link to our ancient past – it’s quite heartbreaking to think the ancient city Ur, founded by the Civilzation of the Sun, is now surrounded by a military base.

    That incredible staircase looks like such a powerful symbol of ascent!

    • I was thinking the same thing reading this – the area going from the site of a spiritual temple aligned to the sun to a “wasteland at the edge of a war zone” – what a contrast!

      Thanks for writing this Justin. I’ve always thought that Mesopotamia and its various cultures would surely tie in with the lost civilization of the sun in some way, but other than some stories or a couple fragments in texts here and there, hadn’t really come across much hard proof like this post shows.

  • What an amazing structure, and the staircase looks majestic.

    On another note, it is eye opening to see a major city being abandoned for what seemingly appears to be climate change. I have read stories of the fertile mesopotamia, in Israel called ‘the land of milk and honey’, but I never took them to be serious as it’s hard to see how a desert was once a paradise. Such a structure in the middle of nowhere is a sign that’s difficult to ignore.

    As I am writing this comment I started to wonder what environment the temple was active in. Mud brick construction (if that was the original way of building it) does not bear up to strong rains, or requires a lot of maintenance. I wonder if people of Ur found tricks to make sure their temple does not incur significant damage when it pours.

    • It is an interesting question you ask Aleksandr – there were a few points that came up while I was researching.

      First off the external structure was made of fired brick which of course would give it greater water resistance as moisture is baked out of it making it much stronger. (I found it interesting to see this picture of a brick from Ur with the apparent impression of a dog’s paw in it! The dog must have stepped on a brick waiting to be fired and then the footprint was preserved.)

      Secondly, the mortar used was mixed with bitumen, an oil product, which gave important protection as it is very water resistant. There were later additions to this structure that apparently were completely eroded as they did not use bitumen.

      Third, there are mysterious holes in the side of the structure which some researchers believe are drainage holes, allowing rainwater that permeates the structure to drain away.

      • Thanks Justin for the clarification. It makes sense that the structure used fired bricks on the outside, seeing as the technology existed at the time. It is also interesting about the bitumen mortar to make it more water resistant. I suspected that something like this must have been used.

    • I felt the same way about ancient Egypt apparently being a lush place at one point, Alex. For a long time it was hard for me to visualize what these places would have been like pre-desert. Likewise, when I was a child I remember hearing of the magnificent Babylonian hanging gardens and it was very confusing for me to try and conceptualize what these gardens would have been like and how on earth they survived considering the current environment. The “land of milk and honey” was also something I’ve had to read about (a lot…) in primary school, but somehow I could never picture it as something more than a desert with a bit more water and greenery… I therefore remember concluding that it must have just been an expression to denote that it’s a nice place. Interesting how these childhood impressions stuck around.

      It’s especially interesting for me because of living for some years in the Middle East in childhood and seeing reminiscent types of ancient structures to this ziggurat in person. The memories of these places as though they’ve always been a part of a desert culture are very much “set” in my mind — they are very dry and so monochromatic, and the environment today is so arid that it becomes difficult to visualize anything else to have ever existed there. Inaccurate “historic” movie depictions don’t help on that front either…

      • Hi Jenny, I also thought the ‘land of milk and honey’ was more a figure of speech than a reality. It is very difficult to visualize a desert once being a lush area. Structures such as the Ziggurat of Ur make me question my opinion. Perhaps at one time, not so long ago, it was actually a lush area, and is now just a desert.

  • Thanks for putting together this information Justin. It’s amazing that this site aligns so precisely with the Summer Solstice, obviously they seemed to hold this as something very important.

    The contrast you describe between the desolate desert that’s there now and how the climate would’ve been in the past also strikes me. If I start imaging a lush land, and great ceremonies held atop such a grand building, possibly with huge numbers of people there, and that these special solstice events were a big thing in person’s daily life (as this was before television, so with less ‘to do’ perhaps 😉 )

    Ancient huge buildings popping up out of the soil like this is always a sight to behold, so much in plain sight, yet so much of the story a mystery. I like one quote from a modern archaeologist (if I’m understanding it correctly)

    “Matters of antiquity are like light after sunset – clear at first, but… the twilight comes – then total darkness.” ~ Charles Higham.

  • Amazing to know this site also aligns to the sun. The first thing that strikes me is how massive this structure is. And that staircase looks like it goes straight up to the sky! ????

    In that black and white photo, by the way, the resemblance with Cahokia seems a lot clearer, which is a very interesting connection to think about…

    P.S. that Sumerian kings list at the end is really interesting. There’s something really remarkable and enigmatic about a record that starts with kings recorded to have ruled for 28-43 thousand years each, and slowly dwindling down to successions of rulers who ruled only literally a few years each… So many things to take in here…

    • Hi Jenny that Kings’ list also caught my eye and is very intriguing. Some of the numbers on it might not seem logical, perhaps some are symbolic or who knows?, but to simply dismiss it all would be too easy. With it featuring real listings of archaeologically recorded ancient kings, and yet going far back beyond it, I find seems to give it some credence.

      Just for fun I was having a look. It mentions at one point: “then the flood swept over”. I started adding up the number of years that came after it (though omitting the first rather excessive 23k+ reign.) and these added up to about 7600 years when it reaches the year 2341 BC. So that would make it around the time of 10.000 BC— very close to other approximates dates of cataclysmic climate changes.

      But yes one wonders about references to ancient civilisations and humanities and stories before the last ice age. Atlantis, Lemuria? Things that seem like fairy tales and myths now, but how much do we really know?

      • Yes the age and time frame of the kings is very intriguing. You would think, that having a divine ruler for so long would increase the culture’s perception of the sanctity of the times: ie. how could someone have such an immortality?

        Alternatively, there are some accounts of rulers, giving the same name to their sons who would later take over their kingdom. Not sure if this would be the case with Sumeria given the ancient and spiritually advanced origins of its culture.

        However it also reminds me of perhaps the time frame of the wisdom bringers who took on different names, a single person or group of aids, whose mission brought them to establish many cultures and civilisations that would far surpass the life expectancy of a single individual. Would be interesting to learn if the Sumerian kings would have such a divine mission.

    • I agree Jenny, that kings list is very interesting. It looks like after the flood, the kings (and (people I suppose) started living much shorter lives.

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