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Ur - A view from our expert author


 Ur, together with Babylon, is probably the best known city of Mesopotamia. The wealth of modern literature and the glittering objects in museums worldwide has made this so. Ur is known locally as Tell Muqeihar or ‘mound of bitumen’, a name taken from the 18m-high ruins of the ziggurat, which dominated the otherwise desolate site. During the 3rd Ur Dynasty (c2124–2015BC) Ur was probably isolated from the plain by the Euphrates, which is thought to have flowed to the west of the ziggurat at a distance of perhaps 200m and by a system of canals which acted as a protection for the city. At this time the city had two harbours, one to the north and the other to the southwest. The rest of the city was entirely taken up by the official and residential quarters.

This site has been connected to the air-force base and its perimeters for a long time. The air base was built and occupied by the British air force during the 1930s, then the Iraqi air force, followed by the US air force and is now back in Iraqi hands. In the early days, certainly in the 1970s, access to the site was limited due to the security measures put in place by Saddam’s regime. After 2003 these measures were re-introduced under the Americans. Now we are able to access this site again. In 2014 it had been partially re-fenced and gated. A reception centre was added and golf buggies are available for people to travel in around the site.

Woolley subsequently cabled a telegram to London newspapers to say that he had found evidence of the biblical flood in the pit.

Walkways have been constructed between the ziggurat, the Royal Tombs and the re-constructed Abraham’s House. From the top of the ziggurat you can clearly see the harbour depressions, the various temples and the palace foundations. The Royal Tombs are fenced off, partly to protect them, but also because their roofs are damaged and potentially dangerous to tourists. Close by the tombs you can see the ‘Pit’ or ‘Woolley’s Pit’. This 35m-deep excavation was an attempt by Woolley to plumb to the ground levels of the site, and Woolley subsequently cabled a telegram to London newspapers to say that he had found evidence of the biblical flood in the pit. Behind the Royal Tombs are some large spoil heaps and the foundations of many ancient houses, a few of which have been reconstructed. It is claimed that this is the place where Abraham lived with his family. Plans are still current for some minor archaeological work, but mostly the site is being planned as an important tourist and visitor centre.

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