Situated near the town of Nasiriya, about 365 km south of Baghdad, Ur, which means a city in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages, is one of Iraq’s most imposing ancient sites. It was the capital of the ancient civilization of Sumeria.
This city, which is mentioned several times in the Bible as Ur of the Chaldees (referring to the Chaldeans, whom settled in the area about 900 BC) as the birthplace of Prophet Abraham “Ibrahim Al-Khalil” (pbuh), was one of the most important cities of the Sumerians in the 4th and the 1st half of the 3rd millennium BC. It was also considered as one of the most active and full of life cities in southern Mesopotamia during the following centuries. In former days it stood on the banks of the Euphrates, until the river changed its course.
Ur was the principal center of worship of the Sumerian moon god Nanna and of his Babylonian equivalent Sin. The massive and impressive ziggurat of this deity, one of the best preserved in Iraq, and one of the most famous historical monuments in the World, stands about 21 m above the desert.
Ur was one of the first village settlements founded (circa 4000 BC) by the so-called Ubaidian inhabitants of Sumer. Before 2800 BC, Ur became one of the most prosperous Sumerian city-states. According to ancient records, Ur had 3 dynasties of rulers who, at various times, extended their control over all of Sumer.
The founder of the First Dynasty of Ur was the conqueror and temple builder Mesanepada (reigned about 2670 BC), the earliest Mesopotamian ruler described in extant contemporary documents. His son Aanepadda (reigned about 2650 BC) built the temple of the goddess Ninhursag, which was excavated in modern times at Tell Al-Obeid, about 8 km north east of the site of Ur.
Ur was captured about 2340 BC by King Sargon of Agade, and this era, called the Akkadian period, marks an important step in the blending of Sumerian and Semitic cultures. After this dynasty came a long period of which practically nothing is known except that a 2nd dynasty rose and fell.
Ur-Nammu (reigned 2113-2095 BC), the first king of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, who revived the empire of Sumer and Akkad, won control of the outlet to the sea about 2100 BC and made Ur the wealthiest city in Mesopotamia. His reign marked the beginning of the so-called renaissance of Sumerian art and literature at Ur.
Ur-Nammu, who wrote the first law in history, which contained 31 legal paragraphes, and who built the great walls of Ur ‘as high as a shining mountain’, and his son and successor Shulgi (reigned 2095-2047 BC) both built the great ziggurat of Nanna (about 2100 BC) that has stood throughout the centuries, and magnificent temples at Ur and in other Mesopotamian cities. The descendants of Ur-Nammu continued in power for more than a century, or until shortly before 2000 BC, when the Elamites captured Ibbi-Sin (reigned 2029-2004 BC), king of Ur, and destroyed the city.
Rebuilt shortly thereafter, Ur became part of the kingdom of Isin, later of the kingdom of Larsa, and finally was incorporated into Babylonia. During the period when Babylonia was ruled by the Kassites, Ur remained an important religious center. It was a provincial capital with hereditary governors during the period of Assyrian rule in Babylonia.
After the Chaldean dynasty was established in Babylonia, King Nebuchadnezzar II initiated a new period of building activity at Ur. The last Babylonian king, Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 BC), who appointed his eldest daughter high priestess at Ur, embellished the temples and entirely remodeled the ziggurat of Nanna increasing its height to 7 stages, making it rival even the temple of Marduk at Babylon.
After Babylonia came under the control of Persia, Ur began to decline. By the 4th century BC, the city was practically forgotten, possibly as a result of a shift in the course of the Euphrates River.