Chogha Zanbil is a ruined palace and temple complex of the ancient Elamite city of Dur Untashi (Dur Untash), near Susa in the Khūzestān region of southwestern Iran. The complex consists of a magnificent ziggurat (the largest structure of its kind in Iran), temples, and three palaces. The site was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. It is one of the few existent ziggurats outside Mesopotamia. It lies approximately 30 km (19 mi) south-east of Susa and 80 km (50 mi) north of Ahvaz.
It was constructed by the emperor of Elamite. The Elamite civilization was one of the earliest cultures to have flourished along the rivers of Khuzestan. This magnificent stepped pyramidal temple was dedicated to the bull-god Inshushinak, regarded as protector of Susa. Founded c. 1250 B.C., the city remained unfinished after it was invaded by Ashurbanipal, as shown by the thousands of unused bricks left at the site. Still, it is unlikely that many people, besides priests and servants, ever lived there.
It was built about 1250 BC by the king Untash-Napirisha, mainly to honor the great god Inshushinak. Its original name was Dur Untash, which means ‘town of Untash’, but it is unlikely that many people, besides priests and servants, ever lived there. The complex is protected by three concentric walls which define the main areas of the ‘town’. The inner area is wholly taken up with a great ziggurat dedicated to the main god, which was built over an earlier square temple with storage rooms also built by Untash-Napirisha. The middle area holds eleven temples for lesser gods. It is believed that twenty-two temples were originally planned, but the king died before they could be finished, and his successors discontinued the building work. In the outer area are royal palaces, a funerary palace containing five subterranean royal tombs.
Choga Zanbil is a local name meaning “large basket-shaped hill.” It was sighted in 1935 by prospectors of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company who were surveying the region by airplane. Initial studies were performed by French archaeologists in the late 1930s. From 1946 to 1962, excavations were carried out by the archaeologist Roman Ghirshman. Several bull sculptures of Inshushinak were found within the complex, which served the royal families of Elam as a place both of worship and of interment. In addition, a variety of small artifacts were recovered, including a collection of Middle Elamite cylinder seals. A building on the grounds contains five vaulted underground tombs, within four of which are cremated remains, and there is one uncremated corpse. The Elamites traditionally buried their dead, and the reason for the cremation is unknown.
The ziggurat is considered to be the best preserved example of the stepped pyramidal monument by UNESCO. In 1979, Chogha Zanbil became the first Iranian site to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.