Ur, together with Babylon, is probably the best-known city of Mesopotamia. It is a prime example of Iraq’s phenomenal archaeological sites. The wealth of modern literature and the glittering objects in museums worldwide has made this so. Ur is known locally as Tel Muqeihar or ‘mound of bitumen’, a name taken from the 18m-high ruins of the ziggurat, which dominated the otherwise desolate site. The visible remains of the ziggurat itself are of two widely different periods, an early structure built by Ur-Nammu about 2300BC having been enlarged and rebuilt by Nabonidus in the 6th Century BC.
The site of this city is huge and remarkable remains can be seen of the harbour temples and the great city wall which is an astonishing piece of work and almost oval in shape.
The third-Dynasty mausoleum contains the Royal Tombs which form the eastern limit of the great cemetery. The graves vary in date from the beginning of the Early Dynastic to the end of the Akkadian period, and were consequently superimposed and often inter-penetrating. The majority have disappeared in the process of excavating, but some of the vaulted tombs in which important people were buried still remain.
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. Walkways have been constructed between the ziggurat, the Royal Tombs and the reconstructed Abraham’s House.
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 Sir Leonard 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. Plans are still current for some minor archaeological work, but mostly the site is being planned as an important tourist and visitor centre.