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The Northwest Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II at Nimrud

An Interactive Publication -- Prototype

page updated Mar. 13, 1999


by Alison B. Snyder

The existing and remaining Palace has never been fully "reconstructed" (on paper). It's breadth and width are mostly known through the series of excavations from the 1800's on until today. The heights of its roofs and walls have never been known and will probably always be a subject of conjecture. Layard attempted interior and exterior reconstructions and they have been widely published--they are also, say the scholars, impressionistic or simply incorrect. In occasional bursts of "Assyromania" elements of Assyrian architecture and architectural decoration have been used for 19th and 20th century decorative objects, and buildings, including Worlds Fair expositions, implying knowledgeable equations with ancient Assyrian architecture. For instance, in the United States, there are:
  • The Samson Tire and Rubber Company Headquarters (later Uniroyal; and now a shopping mall) built in 1929 along the San Diego Freeway, south of Los Angeles, California, and
  • Various Manhattan "East Side"- New York City and downtown-Chicago, Illinois, buildings with Assyrian motifs.
One of the most famous "Layard attempts" is his color representation of the interior of Ashur-nasir-pal's Throne Room. Several years ago, we first attempted to improve upon this drawing and represent our interpretation of what "might have been" (the current virtual re-creation is our latest attempt). In order to begin to understand the sizes of specific building elements, we started from the exterior of the Throne Room and drew a reconstruction (in 1992) of its main, exterior entry facade as seen from the center of the Great Northern Courtyard. 

The basis for all of this work is the architectural floor plan which has been directly surveyed from the in situ Palace and the very specific information that exists on the bas-relief both facing the exterior and those set within the Throne Room. Given the height differential between the interior and exterior relief, we first surmised that the building's height for the Throne Room and perhaps for the whole northern wing was probably governed by the exterior facade of the Throne Room. 

We had to determine how high and what shape the three arched doorways were. We then had to determine what sort of proportions we wanted to use as precedents for the building presence. 

The archways are straight and then begin to taper to a parabola or ellipse at the head of the lamassu. Our precedent, after searching through several drawn reconstructions and in situ examples of roughly the same period, is based upon the glazed and painted brick panel from above a doorway dated to the period of Shalmaneser III, Ashur-nasir-pal's son and successor, discovered by the British excavation in "Ft. Shalmaneser" at Nimrud. Further examples found in preserved Mesopotamian architecture confirm that other tapered archways existed (Damerji). 

The brick panel of Shalmaneser III (reconstructed by Reade; see Mallowan II) allowed us to formulate a proportional system of the bas-relief to the arched opening. From the increased size of the relief in the central section of the Throne Room facade and from the standpoint of setting up a strong and regal-like symmetry, we surmised that the central doorway was tallest. The eastern and western doorways most probably allowed for suitors of the court to enter and exit when the king was receiving people. 

Once we set the height of the central (8.00 m) and flanking (6.00 m) doorways, we set the height of the roof of the Throne Room facade so as to include room for the interior roof structure over the North Wing of the Palace's public audience halls. We surmised a parapet with typical canted crenellations at the top of the wall with the height of the facade from the paving surface (mud brick pavers measured in situ at ca. 40 x 40 cm) to the top of the crenellations measuring 12 meters. 

Decorative banding above the bas-relief panels and along the front of the archways and below the parapet are suggested by aesthetic and structural considerations -- in the case of the bas-relief panels, for example, as a border between stone-wall decoration and the plastered-brick wall facade -- and by fragments of glazed and painted brick remnants found on site during excavations. Also, the glazed brick panel from Fort Shalmaneser (Mallowan) and the archway which was preserved at the time of excavation at Khorsabad (Sobolewski) confirm that these types of banding existed. 

As one passes through an archway from the Courtyard (most likely the western, right-hand, one first if you were coming to see the King, as Max Mallowan once suggested), the elliptical archway was manipulated to be a flat arch on the interior, currently measuring ca. 6.40 m. Our reasoning for this was predicated on the remnants of rectilinear door elements found at Balawat and the hypothesis that rectilinear, decorative, fired-brick panels could have been located above the doorways. An alternative suggestion would be an arched brick panel such as at Fort Shalmaneser. For other examples of arched, brick panels above doors and special bas-relief motifs, see the discussion of the Throne Room. Also, bringing the tall exterior arch to a flat arch allows for a height transition that works well with the smaller interior bas-relief panels. 

The Throne Room measures ca. 9.80 m wide by ca. 45.70 m long . In studying the proportions of the room and connecting them to the rationale used for the exterior Courtyard facade, we settled upon a 10-meter-high room. Inclusive in the room are the wood beams (0.61 m x 0.61 m) spanning this width and set every 3 meters along the length of the room. The beams are bracketed by decorative corbels in the shape of upturned hands, which were also found in the debris of the excavation and have precedence of use in other structures such as Assyrian temples and palaces, though none have been found definitively in situ (Frame). 

To begin to suggest the grandeur of the Throne Room, a series of decorative motifs have been selected and placed along the tops of the bas-relief and over the doorways. They equal approximately the height of the bas-relief below it, or roughly a 1:1 ratio. We have taken the motifs and layout as seen in a throne room at Fort Shalmaneser (Mallowan II) which was repainted in the time of King Esarhaddon, glazed and painted wall plaques (Curtis and Reade), round and shield-shaped, and decorative elements from fragments of painted wall plaster and brick found by Layard and during the Iraqi and British work in the palace (Layard vol. I). The idea of painted rafters with rosettes and circles with dots comes from the remains of a Khorsabad throne room (Loud). 

It is thought that this room, the principal Throne Room, and the room C, an anteroom to the Throne Room visible through a 4-meter wide by 8-meter high doorway at its western end where there was most likely a stairway to the roof, would have been highly painted as opposed to a monochromatic scheme. In this model we are suggesting white painted plaster as the background for the decorations at the upper walls. 

We are still questioning aspects of the interior and exterior. Some of the items we will study further for this reconstruction are related to structure as well as aesthetic, for instance:

  • the surface materials (plaster and paint), and whether the mud bricks show in certain places;
  • the wall brick sizes;
  • the inconclusiveness of the decorative elements and their sizes;
  • whether the flanking bastions were really towers and whether they taper towards the top;
  • whether there were exterior vertical facade indentations made with plaster to create a shadow;
  • aspects of color, light and lighting;
  • drainage at the base of the building;
  • internal construction details:
  • exact spring points of arches;
  • which doorways have flat arches and which elliptical;

  • are there specific motifs in the stone-wall decoration that are completed with brick and plaster above them.

History of the Excavations The Global Distribution of the Remains
Descriptions of Palace Spaces:
The Great Northern Courtyard
The Throne Room
The Digital Reconstruction Process Images from the Digital Model
The Northwest Palace Home Page
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