Nebuchadnezzar’s Tower of Babel?


The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, circa 1563 AD. 

Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) was a king of the short lived Neo Babylonian Empire in Mesopotamia (the region that roughly encompasses modern day Iraq).  Nebuchadnezzar’s fame rests on his amazing construction projects at Babylon and his ambitious conquests, which resulted in Jerusalem being razed to the ground. He is mentioned in the bible for laying waste to Solomon’s temple and furthermore, deporting most of the Jewish population from Jerusalem.


Nebuchadnezzar during his reign had a grand vision of a Babylon once more becoming great. It had in the century before been devastated by conflict, but he had hoped by building a new magnificent city it would rival all others once more. His father before him had started reconstruction of the city of Babylon, but it was under his reign that reconstruction of the city reached a new zenith. Among his most spectacular and important buildings were the Ishtar Gate, which was apparently completely covered in glazed brick; an enormous palace known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; and the Etemenanki ziggurat, which was the first example or model of the Tower of Babel.

The Etemenanki ziggurat which was completely rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar II, apparently reached the height of 90 metres, some seven storeys high. At the top of the ziggurat stands a temple shrine in dedication to the city god Marduk.

Nebuchadnezzar’s ziggurat is often associated with the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It tells the story of  how the people who constructing the tower, intended it to reach the heavens, but God destroyed it, because he believed the tower would lead them away from God. He then punished them, by causing them to speak different languages and scattering them over the face of the earth. By doing this, the builders of the towers plans would be thwarted.

The real tower of Nebuchadnezzar was destroyed by Alexander the Great, who thought of himself as a God. However, it wasn’t Alexander’s intentions to destroy it. When Alexander had captured Babylon, he ordered extensive repairs to Nebuchadnezzar’s Etemenanki ziggurat, but when he returned to Babylon to see how reconstruction had progressed and little had been done, he ordered it to be demolished. The plan was then to rebuild it from scratch. In the end, the only thing that had prevented the ziggurat’s reconstruction was Alexander’s death.


The insect of the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was inspired by the Colosseum in Rome.