Known primarily as the capital of the Assyrian empire, Niniveh, at the height of its power (9th-7th centuries BC) was even more powerful than Babylon itself. One of its kings, Sennacherib was especially proud that he captured Lachish, Judah's second largest city after Jerusalem while Hezekiah was king. Under the blows of two of its kings Tiglath Pileser III and Sargon II the northern kingdom of Israel ceased to exist in 720 BC.
Niniveh's founding goes back to the prehistoric period when settlers belonging to what is known by archaeologists as the Hassuna culture first occupied the site around 5500 BC. The city is located on the Tigris River in northern Mesopotamia in the Assyrian heart land and today its ruins are surrounded by the urban sprawl of the modern Iraqi city of Mosul. The biblical account of Niniveh's vast size is no exaggeration. The area of the walled city is more than 1700 acres (7 km2) and its walls are 8 miles (12 km) long interrupted by fifteen enormous gates positioned more or less at regular intervals. The entire length of the city's western wall and quays dropped down to the Tigris River, the international highway of the time. It is likely that there was a suburb on the opposite bank of the river also protected by a wall, a defensive measure similar to that employed in Babylon. The Tigris River has slowly changed its course during the past two and a half millennia and now it flows about a mile to the west of its city walls through the modern Iraqi city of Mosul.The acropolis with the royal palaces, main temple buildings and the ziggurat was the focus of large scale excavations since the 1840s and all the treasures gracing several European museums today were looted from there. The two main royal palaces discovered on the acropolis are those of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal consisting of about one hundred rooms each. The temples in the acropolis area served the most important gods of Niniveh: Ishtar, Ashur, Shamash, Sin, Nergal and Nabu. The goddess Ishtar was the traditional main deity of the city and her temple had undergone repeated renovations over the millennia. I show it here covered with bricks glazed with the blue lapis lazuli we know so well from the Ishtar Gate and the royal palace in Babylon. There was also the obligatory ziggurat on top of which perched a temple probably dedicated to Ishtar or Ashur. Several luxurious gardens with exotic fruit trees imported from distant lands covered a large portion of the acropolis complete with pleasure pavilions and water canals.
Apart from spectacular artifacts retrieved from the buried palaces, 22,000 cuneiform tablets from Ashurbanipal's library also saw the light of day on topics ranging from literary compositions, astronomical and mathematical texts to records of divination, historical and economical texts offering us a glimpse into the world of ancient Assyria and beyond. The ironic reason these records survived is because Ashurbanipal's palace, where they were kept, was destroyed shortly following his reign amidst the overall destruction of the entire city by its former vassals, the Babylonians and Medes in the summer of 612 BC. Niniveh never recovered from the blow and it was only partially occupied in the following centuries.
The details of this illustration are based on well documented facts as well as conjecture. The acropolis with the royal palaces and temples surrounded by fortification in the center of the image has been selectively excavated and we have a good idea of how the various structures were positioned in that large area. The Khosr River flowed past it on one side and a wide moat protected it on the other. Some of Niniveh's monumental gates survived to a certain height and have been reconstructed by the Iraqis as were the outer stone wall encircling the entire city. Assyrian wall reliefs provide information of multi level defensive fortifications around royal places which I referenced here. Several of such carvings depict elevated riverside quays made of burnt bricks protecting the walls and the inhabitants from the annual floods. I used those depictions here to create the look of the interface between the Tigris River and the city. No doubt lively commercial activity took place here. The city is shown in this image in mid afternoon looking south-east.read more