White Temple of Uruk

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The White Temple was a religious structure, built over the Anu ziggurat, and dedicated to the dedicated to the sky god Anu. It was built in the late 4th millennium BCE (the Late Uruk Period, or Uruk III). This temple would have towered well above (approximately 40 feet) the flat plain of Uruk, and been visible from a great distance—even over the defensive walls of the city.


It is estimated that it would have taken 1500 laborers working on average ten hours per day for about five years to build the last major revetment (stone facing) of its massive underlying terrace (the open areas surrounding the White Temple at the top of the ziggurat).

It is also speculated that the religious belief may have inspired participation in such a large construction project, no doubt some sort of force (corvée labor—unpaid labor coerced by the state/slavery) was involved as well.

The current name of the temple originates from the fact that it was entirely white washed inside and out, which would have given it a dazzling brightness in strong sunlight.

The Anu Ziggurat

circa 2700 BCE

The White Temple was built over a massive mud-ziggurat with very broad and sloping sides. The sides of this ziggurat were broken up by recessed stripes or bands from top to bottom (see digital reconstruction, above), which would have made a stunning pattern in morning or afternoon sunlight. The flat top of the ziggurat was coated with bitumen (asphalt—a tar or pitch-like material similar to what is used for road paving) and overlaid with brick, for a firm and waterproof foundation for the White temple.

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