i Plan of a Private Home in Ur of the Chaldeans at the Time of Abraham, 2,100 B.C. ...Page 45

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Plan of a Private Home in Ur of the Chaldeans at the Time of Abraham, 2,100 B.C. ...Page 45

Genesis 15

Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir."
He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it."

Front View of 2 story house at #3 Gay Street in Ur. Click and Drag Photo to resize.

When the first western explorers and antiquarians arrived in Mesopotamia Ur of the Chaldees was high on their agenda. After all, it was said by the Bible to be the home town of the patriarch Abraham.

As it turned out the site was even more than they imagined. It was the principal city of a hitherto unknown civilization, dubbed Sumerian by those who first identified it.

Excavations at Ur began shortly after World War I and were conducted by Leonard Woolley under the sponsorship of the British Museum and the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Woolley worked there throughout the 1920's and uncovered huge areas of the city, including the tombs of a number of her kings and queens along with temples, palaces and the homes of ordinary citizens. The results were published over the course of the next several decades.

By the time Hammurabi took the Babylonian throne, in the eighteenth century BC, Ur was already a place of considerable antiquity. It had already been occupied for something like 3500 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.

Its inhabitants were Sumerians, the people who 'invented' the very notion of cities and civilization. Their ancestors were farmers who had moved into the plains of southern Mesopotamia by the sixth millennium BC.

It was a fertile land, with enormous agricultural potential if only it was not so dry. The Sumerians had mastered the techniques of irrigation, however, and used them to produce huge quantities of grain to feed a rapidly growing population.

Private Houses

Floorplan of 2 story house at #3 Gay Street in Ur. Click and Drag Photo to resize..

Private houses are all of a broadly similar type although the scale and the exact layout might vary. Typical is the house at No. 3 Gay Street (Woolley named the streets after those he knew well from his student days at Oxford) shown in the plan below.

Essentially it consists of a central court with living rooms arranged around it, reflecting both the climate and the need for privacy in a crowded urban environment.

If there were any windows facing the street, they were in the upper storeys.

The small door from the street opened into a paved lobby which was often provided with a drain in one corner—presumably so that one could wash the dust off one's feet before entering the house proper.

From the lobby another door (usually offset) led to the central court. Masks of the demon-god Pazuzu were often hung on the door jambs to protect the house against the southwest wind which brought pestilence.

The surface of the courtyard sloped towards the centre where there was an impluvium (the impluvium was a pool that captured rainwater from the opening in the roof) and a drain to carry away the excess rainwater.

Around the court were various domestic rooms and a stairway. One of the rooms, usually at the rear of the house, was a reception room, the equivalent of the liwan found in more recent Middle Eastern homes, where visitors would be entertained and accommodated.

On the other side were the stairs and a lavatory, the latter distinguished by its paved floor and drain.

"A street of private houses recently excavated in the city of "Ur of the Chaldees."

The houses were built about 2100 B.C., i.e. about the time when Abraham and his father Terah were living in Ur; this street must have been seen by these patriarchs.

They are the first private houses of the period to be discovered, and their state of preservation is such that it is possible to reconstruct the general plan of the house of a well-to-do citizen of Ur"....The Book of the Cave of Treasures

Another ground floor room would be the kitchen, usually equipped with a beehive shaped bread oven and cooking range.

There might also be a spare bedroom (with a low brick platform or wooden frame covered with mats) and possibly a workroom.Larger houses might have a second courtyard suite and private lavatory facilities next to the liwan for the use of guests.

It is assumed that the family lived on a second storey— the walls are certainly thick enough if it followed the same plan as the ground floor (the ceilings would have been too flimsy to support the weight of cross-walls).

Postholes in the court of 3 Gay Street suggest that a wooden gallery ran around the interior of the court for communication. The fact that at least one central drain had a curb around it suggests runoff from the roof of such a structure flowed directly into it.

Courtyard Plan. Click and Drag to resize.

No. 11 Paternoster Row had walls thick enough to support a third storey. The odd house has yards at the back with what seem to be storage sheds or stables.

Domestic chapels are found at the rear of all of the larger houses and were generally accessed through a door in the liwan. Typically, the chapel consisted of a long brick-paved room, the largest in the house, with an altar at one end.

The paving suggests the room may have been at least partly open to the sky—although the end with the altar was most likely protected by a roof.

The altar was a low brick platform which took up most of the end of the chapel. Cut into the wall behind it was a recessed incense hearth with an open chimney running up to the roof.

At one end of the altar stood a brick pedestal about 1 metre high. It was covered with plaster which had been cut into a pattern, usually representing the facade of a temple building, and undoubtedly held the image of the deity.

A small chamber associated with the chapel contained the family archives.

Source: Ur in the Age of Hammurabi, by William Rowbotham

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