Chogha Zanbil is an Elamite ziggurat built in the 13th century BCE. The Elamite king Untash-Napirisha founded it in honour of the god Inshushimah. Smaller temples dedicated to other Elamite gods surround the ziggurat. The ziggurat is made from mud bricks, stacks of unused baked bricks still stand next to the building. The original name of the site was Dur Untash, town of Untash.
The site extents around one square kilometre and was originally surrounded by a four-kilometre wall. Building stopped after the death of Untash-Napirisha. There is discussion about the period of Untash-Napirisha’s rule, the most recent thought is that he reigned between 1275-1240 BCE. The site remained in use after the death of Untash-Napirisha until the Assyrian king Ashurbanipul destroyed it in 640 BCE.
“In a month of days, I levelled the whole of Elam. I deprived its fields of the sound of human voices, the tread of cattle and sheep, the refrain of joyous harvest songs. I turned it into a pasture for wild asses, gazelles and all manner of wild animals.” This inscription from an Assyrian palace tells us about the destruction. Only decades later, the Medes would bring the same kind of destruction to the Assyrian civilization.
Read more about how we rated the Chogha Zanbil and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.
The orange red bricks perfectly contrast the blue sky. As you walk around the ziggurat in the burning sun, the 3,500-year-old 53-meter-high building provides a passageway through time. Much of the ziggurat looks like it was built only yesterday. The site is even more magical at dawn or dusk, when the orange sky complements the warm colours of the ziggurat.
This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.
Chogha Zanbil is one of the best-preserved ziggurats in the world. It’s also one of the few ziggurats built outside of Mesopotamia. And if the security situation in Iraq hasn’t improved, this is your best option anyway. All this results in an appreciation of 5 out of 5 for uniqueness.
The ziggurat itself doesn’t come with much explanation. There are some bilingual signs in English and Iranian, explaining the functions of the different buildings. You’re free to wander the area as long as you stay of the ziggurat itself.
To give your visit more context, visit the nearby museum at Haft Tepe. Here you’ll find a detailed history of the ziggurat and the Elamites. The museum also houses archaeological finds from the site.
Disability: The site is flat without any stairs making it easily accessible. Major climate warning, there is almost no shade at the site. The temperature averages around 40+ degree Celsius in the spring and 50+ degree Celsius in the summer. Bring some water, air-conditioning, sunscreen, parasols and sunglasses.
Value for money: The entry price is 200,000 Rial (€4.5/$5), this is the average price tourists must pay for historical sites and museums. So, the value for money is good.
Located in the south-western part of Iran near the Iraqi border, the only way to get to Chogha Zanbil is by car. So there are only a couple of options. Rent a car and drive yourself. Hire a taxi for a day and additionally go to Shush (Susa) and Shushtar to make the most of your day. Or be part of an organised tour which includes Chogha Zanbil in its itinerary. Apart from Shush and Shushtar there isn’t much to see in this area. So you need to plan carefully and arrange for enough time. This all leads to a score of 2.5 out of 5 for location.
Overall rating 4
Chogha Zanbil is a beautiful and unique site in a far corner of Iran. There is room for improvement. It needs to be accessible by public transport and the site can be better explained. But at the same time, there is a big chance that you will be all by yourself with this 3,500-year-old building. That’s worth some effort. Considering everything, we’ll give Chogha Zanbil a light 4.
Some websites mix the date of destruction with the date of the end of construction. To be clear, construction of the site stopped somewhere around 1240BCE. The site stopped being used in 640BCE after the destruction by the Assyrians.
Also read our two day itinerary for Tehran.