The City of Ur
The dessert is a terrifically uninhabitable place. There is little or no water, there is no vegetation, there is little wildlife, and the wildlife available is not particularly appetizing. There is no useful wood or stone as building materials, and so to live in the desert is completely dependant on the importation of all good from far away lands. Why then are cities built in desserts. In my mind these were cities build by people exiled to the desert with no other possible place to go. However recently I read about a city in the desert named Ur which dates back to the 900bc making it one of the first cities in the world. The paradox of a city built in the desert as one of the first cities in the world is at face value fairly perplexing, however the deeper I looked into this city the more fascinated I became with its rich history and incredibly advanced structures.
The desert has very few natural resources and in many ways is not conducive for human life. It is extremely hot during the day with little or no cover from the sun, it is very cold at night, it does not lend itself to agriculture nor game animals for the most part it is a miserable place to be. Why then does one of the first cities in the world develop there? UR was located in a fairly unique region of the desert in a land know as Mesopotamia. This region is located between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. What made this position unique was that these rivers would cause massive flooding in this area, which carried with it tremendously rich soil perfect for sustaining agriculture for many thousands of people. This constant stream of fresh rich soil allowed continued replanting suitable for large stationary population, what was necessary was the development of techniques for controlling the surging floods from wrecking the crops. Once these techniques were perfected large stationary populations could be sustained in this region. These rich soil and abundant fresh water conditions provide the necessary foundation for a city to survive in a dessert.
UR was a city that developed because it could. It had the all the necessary conditions to support a city and these conditions came together all at the right time to produce a city in the desert. However UR was much more than just a city that happened to come together, it is a place which exhibited extraordinary character and provided an unimaginably high standard of living for its time.
The agriculture surpluses produced from the irrigating techniques of the time were sufficient to support a class of non farmers consisting of merchants, politicians and religious figures. This separation from the land and the free time associated with this separation allowed some of the people of UR to focus their energy on things other then sustenance such as structural innovation, creativity in the form of the arts, rudimentary medicine, law and religion.
One of the most striking aspects of the city is its residential...