The Ziggurat, local Crestone landmark, was commissioned by Najeed Halaby, father of Queen Noor of Jordan, for private prayer and meditation.photo by Haruyuki Suzuki
by Mary Lowers
The Crestone Ziggurat, as it is known, rises from a rocky hill on the southeast edge of the Baca Grande. It is visible for miles, a unique and mysterious Crestone landmark that draws visitors. Climbing to the top gives you sweeping views of our vast landscape—towering mountains and broad valley. It is a place that is very quiet and conducive to contemplation.
If you follow Wagon Wheel Road south after the pavement ends, turn left on Cottonwood Creek and left on Staghorn and follow the meandering road east and south, respecting the signs for vehicular access. The dark mustard-colored tower of the Ziggurat will soon appear. My dog and I enjoy walking out there on cool early mornings. The air always seems fresh and crystalline as we make our way up the switchback trail to the tower which draws you ever upward. Ziggurat comes from an ancient Assyrian word ziffurantu, meaning light pinnacle.
A ziggurat by definition is a rectangular stepped tower. The first of these temple structures we know about were erected by the ancient Sumerians who lived on the rich flood plain between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq. The Sumerians first appeared on the flood plain around 4000 BCE. The earliest of these tower structures appeared about the end of the third millennium BCE. The purpose of a ziggurat is to get people closer to heaven, the sky, home of the gods; in fact the ancient Mesopotamians believed a ziggurat connected heaven and earth.
Ziggurat towers are traditionally fashioned from mud bricks dried in the desert sun, with mud plaster used as mortar to fill in cracks and surface the structure. The Crestone ziggurat is built of concrete. These lofty, ascending structures were erected in successive stages. They have an outside staircase winding to the summit of the tower. Each Sumarian city had a ziggurat as part of its temple complex. Priests performed sacred ceremonies and rites on the ziggurat. Scholars have found evidence pointing to the use of the ziggurat for a sacred marriage between the king and his consort with the gods. This added divine power to the royal couple.
Ziggurats as a form of temple were passed on from the early Sumerians to later cultures that inhabited Fertile Crescent. The ancient civilizations of Babylon and Assyria adopted the towers. Three to seven stories in height, a ziggurat was often built to honor the main god of a city. Nothing the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia thought could be accomplished without the help and intercession of a pantheon of gods dedicated to specific tasks. For example humans were created from clay by Enki the god of earth and flowing waters, at the request of his mother Nammie, to do the footwork of the gods.
The Crestone Ziggurat was commissioned by Najeed Halaby, father of Queen Noor of Jordan. Halaby bought the land the ziggurat occupies from Hanne and Maurice Strong after they bought the Baca Grande from AZL Resources, Inc. in 1978. Halaby, who also built a home nearby, constructed the Ziggurat for private prayer and meditation. At the time Maurice Strong, the first chief of the United Nations Environmental Program, said he saw the Baca Grande as an attempt to “harmonize the people who affect the environment.” The Strong family continues to work hard to make the area a spiritual peace center honoring all paths to the divine to promote peace and understanding.
Halaby, an American of Syrian Christian descent, was born in Dallas, TX December 16, 1928. He graduated from Stanford University and attended Yale Law School. He was a Navy test pilot in WWII. In the early 1960s President Kennedy appointed Halaby head of the Federal Aviation Agency. He served as chairman and CEO of Pan American Airlines from 1969 to 1972. He married three times. Halaby’s daughter Lisa, who trained as an urban planner, became Queen Noor of Jordan. She was the first American to become queen of an Arab nation. In 1978 she converted to Islam. According to Henry Louis Gates Jr., in Faces of America, “Her Majesty Queen Noor is an international public servant and an outspoken voice on issues of world peace and international justice.”
In recent decades the Crestone Ziggurat has continued as a site for private prayer and meditation. Local spiritual seeker and teacher, Wonder Bob has hosted dances where participants join hands and follow the beat in a circle around the ziggurat. You can see a film of this on YouTube; just search for Crestone Ziggurat 2012.
The Crestone Ziggurat is available to the public to visit. Respect for the land and structure is requested. Awe just comes naturally with its presence.