There’s a host of top Mesopotamian cities and sites which can still be seen today and among the very best are Babylon, Persepolis and the tomb of Cyrus the Great. Other popular sites tend to include Pasargadae, Hattusha and Qatna Archaeological Park.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Mesopotamian sites, with our top places to visit as well as a full list of ancient Mesopotamian monuments, landmarks and sites which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best ancient Mesopotamian sites?
Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid era. Founded by Darius I around 515BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings.
Today the imposing remains of Persepolis stand in modern-day Iran and the site is also known as Takht-e Jamshid. Located roughly 50 miles northeast of Shiraz, the ruins of Persepolis contain the remains of many ancient buildings and monuments. These include The Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace, The Throne Hall, Tachara palace, Hadish palace, The Council Hall, and The Tryplion Hall.
Babylon is one of the most famous cities of the ancient mesopotamian world and today can be found near the town of Al-Hillah in modern-day Iraq.
The ruins of Babylon have suffered greatly due to looting and destructive policies, leaving little behind that captures the glory of the once-great city. Saddam Hussein also built a ‘new’ version of ancient Babylon over the site. Of Babylon’s ancient ruins, it is still possible to see parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and some of the old city walls. It is also possible to see a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.
The undeniable focal point of the ruins of Tchogha Zanbil is one of the greatest – if not in fact the greatest – ziggurats to have been built in Mesopotamia. Originally a temple dedicated to the deity Inshushinak, it developed to become the ornate pyramid-like structure – ziggurat – that stands today, although at 25 metres high it is now just a shadow of its former self having once risen to 60 metres.
Beyond its great ziggurat, visitors to Tchogha Zanbil can also view ancient temples and palaces, including its 13th century BC Untash-Gal Palace
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in the former Persian capital of Pasargadae, now a UNESCO-listed town in Iran. Cyrus the Great founded the Achaemenid Dynasty in the sixth century BC and with it the capital, Pasargadae.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is one of the main historic sites of modern Pasargadae. A stepped limestone structure crowned with a rectangular chamber, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great dates back to approximately 540-530 BC. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great conquered Pasargadae in 330 BC, he had the tomb renovated in honour of Cyrus the Great.
Pasargadae was the capital of the Persian Empire from the sixth century BC until it was conquered by the Macedonians led by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Now a town in Iran, Pasargadae was established by the first ruler of the Achaemenid Dynasty, Cyrus the Great.
Amongst the sites still visible at Pasargadae, which is a UNESCO World Heritage historical site, are several palaces – including the Presidential Palace – making up a royal complex and a fortress known as the Tall-e Takht. Most of these structures were built in the sixth century BC under Cyrus the Great and expanded and renovated over the years.
Hattusha is one of Turkey’s great ruins of capitals of the Hittite Empire and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the most interesting ancient mesopotamian cities.
The city is split into an upper and lower level, the latter containing the site of the Great Temple, one of the highlights of Hattusha and believed to have been dedicated to the deities of storms and the sun. Another highlight is the Yerkapi ramparts, a vast stone structure.
Not far from Hattusha, around 2km away, one can see the incredible Yazillkaya Sanctuary, a rock temple which still contains evidence of the artistry for which the city was renowned, including depictions of various deities and reliefs of humans and animals.
Qatna Archaeological Park in Tell Mishrifeh in Syria houses the ruins of what was the thriving ancient Mesopotamian city of Qatna. One significant part of Qatna is an area of the Royal Palace. Constructed from 1650BC to 1550BC and with over eighty rooms on one level alone, Qatna Royal Palace would have been an impressive sight, but was devastated during the Hittite conquest of Syria in 1340BC.