Nineveh was an ancient Assyrian city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, and the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq.
The ruins of Nineveh
Today, Nineveh's location is marked by two large mounds, Kouyunjik and Nabī Yūnus "Prophet Jonah," and the remains of the city walls. These were fitted with fifteen monumental gateways which served as checkpoints on entering and exiting the ancient city, and were probably also used as barracks and armories. With the inner and outer doors shut, the gateways were virtual fortresses. This whole extensive space is now one immense area of ruins overlaid in parts by new suburbs of the city of Mosul. Five of the gateways have been explored to some extent by archaeologists.
Ancient, important city
Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, Nineveh united the East and the West, and received wealth from many sources. Thus, it became one of the oldest and greatest of all the region's ancient cities, and the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The area was settled as early as 6000 BCE, and by 3000 BCE had become an important religious center for worship of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. The early city (and subsequent buildings) were constructed on a fault line, and consequently suffered damage from a number of earthquakes.
Texts from the Hellenistic period offer an eponymous Ninus as the founder of Nineveh, although there is no historical basis for this. The historic Nineveh is mentioned about 1800 BCE as a center of worship of Ishtar. While there is no large body of evidence to show that Assyrian monarchs built at all extensively in Nineveh during the 2nd millennium BCE, it appears to have been originally an "Assyrian provincial town".
It was not until the Neo-Assyrian Empire, particularly from the time of Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883–859 BCE), that Nineveh experienced a considerable architectural expansion. Thereafter successive monarchs such as Sargon II, Esarhaddon, Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal kept Nineveh in repair and founded new palaces and temples.
It was Sennacherib who was credited for making Nineveh a truly magnificent city during his rule (c. 700 BCE). He laid out new streets and squares and built within it the famous "palace without a rival", the plan of which has been mostly recovered. It comprised at least 80 rooms, many of which were lined with sculpture. A large number of cuneiform tablets were found in the palace. The solid foundation was made out of limestone blocks and mud bricks. Some of the principal doorways were flanked by colossal stone-door figures that included many winged lions or bulls with the head.s of men. The stone carvings in the walls include many battle and hunting scenes, as well as depicting Sennacherib's men parading the spoils of war before him .
Nineveh's greatness was short-lived. In around 627 BCE, after the death of its last great king Ashurbanipal, the Neo-Assyrian empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars, and Assyria was attacked by its former vassals, the Babylonians and Medes. From about 616 BCE, in a coalition with the Scythians and Cimmerians, they besieged Nineveh, sacking the town in 612, and later razing it to the ground.
The Assyrian empire as such came to an end by 605 BC, with the Medes and Babylonians dividing its colonies between them. Following its defeat in 612, the site remained largely unoccupied for centuries with only a scattering of Assyrians living amid the ruins until the Sassanian period, although Assyrians continue to live in the surrounding area to this day.