WEST ASIATIC ARCHITECTURE.
The architectural styles of the ancient nations which ruled over the countries of Western Asia watered by the Tigris and the Euphrates, from a period about 2200 B.C. down to 330 B.C., are so intimately connected with one another, and so dependent upon one other, that it is almost impossible to accurately distinguish between the Babylonian, or ancient Chaldean, the Assyrian and the Persian. A clearer picture of the architecture of this long period will be gained by regarding the three styles as modifications and developments of one original style, rather than by attempting to separate them. Their sequence can, however, be accurately determined. First comes the old Chaldean period, next the Assyrian, during which the great city of Nineveh was built, and finally the Persian, after Cyrus had conquered the older monarchies.
The buildings, whether palaces or temples, appear to have been constructed on terraces, and to have been several stories in height.
MaterialsThe materials employed were bricks, both sun-dried and kiln-burnt, which seem to have been coated with a vitreous enamel for purposes of interior decoration. Fragments of carved limestone were discovered by Sir A. H. Layard. Very few fragments of stone have been found. But that does not necessarily mean stone was not used as facing for architectural purposes. After the buildings became ruined, the stone would eagerly be sought for and carried away before the brickwork was touched. Bitumen seems to have been employed as a cement.From remains found at Wurkha, we may gather that the walls of the buildings of this period were covered with elaborate plaster ornaments, and that a great variety of colors were used.
ANALYSIS OF BUILDINGS.
The floor-space of a great Assyrian or Medo-Persian building was laid out on a plan quite distinct from that of an Egyptian temple. The rooms are almost always grouped round quadrangles. The buildings are also placed on terraces, with attached flights of stairs. We find in Assyrian palaces, halls comparatively narrow in proportion to their great length, but still so wide that the roofing of them must have been a serious business. Halls are and found arranged side by side, often three deep. In the Persian buildings, halls nearly square on plan, and filled by a multitude of columns, occur frequently. In the plan of detached buildings like the Birs-i-Nimrud, we are reminded of the pyramids of Egypt.
The magnificently worked granite and stones of Egypt give place to brick for the material of the walls. This allowed for quicker construction. But the remains of these structures have completely deteriorated over time, while Egyptian structures remain.
We can only judge of the roofs by inference, and a difference of opinion exists respecting them. It appears that a large proportion of the buildings must have been roofed by throwing timber beams from wall to wall and forming a thick platform of earth on them. At any rate, the stone roofs of the Egyptians seem to have been discarded, and with them the necessity for enormous columns and piers placed very close together. In some bas-reliefs, buildings with roofs of a domical shape are represented.
The contours of doors, whether arch or lintel, remained in many cases to our time. In some instances, openings were arched. Great attention was paid to important doorways, and a large amount of magnificent sculpture was employed to enrich them.
The columns most probably were of wood in Assyrian palaces. In some of the Persian ones, they were of marble, but of a proportion and treatment which point to an imitation of forms suitable for wood. The bases and capitals of these slender shafts are beautiful in themselves, and very interesting. They have become inspiration some of the forms in Greek architecture. And on the bas-reliefs, other architectural forms are represented, which were afterwards used by the Greeks.
Sculptured slabs, painted wall decorations, and terra-cotta ornamentation were used as enrichments of the walls. These slabs, are objects of the deepest interest. So are the carved bulls from gateways. In the smaller and more purely ornamental decorations the honeysuckle, and other forms familiar to us from their subsequent adoption by Greek artists, are met with constantly, executed with great taste.
A character of lavish and ornate magnificence is the quality most strongly displayed by the architectural remains of Western Asia. We probably would have been impressed with their designs, if any remains of that period still existed.