Houses in Sumer and Babylon were made of carved sandstone blocks or mud bricks. They abandoned clay bricks in favor of stone construction. The flat roofs were made of thick layers of soil over sturdy timbers. As a result, the dwellings became practically or completely fireproof and secure. The walls with windows allowed in some light and air, but provided good protection against intruders.
The inhabitants put great effort into building their homes. The rooms were always well ventilated by open windows. There were no doors or locks on the doors. All you needed to protect your belongings was a big hammer!
People went to great lengths to decorate their houses. The walls were often painted red, black, white, or yellow. Sometimes they used large murals to cover entire buildings. In ancient times, people didn't have much else to show off so they decorated their homes!
Many cities had large walled settlements within their borders where people could live more comfortably than outside the walls. These usually included temples, government offices, and large homes for important people. Sometimes these other-wise normal towns had their own defenses including gates, walls, and towers. Most often, though, they just had high fences around their areas to keep out unwanted visitors.
There are many different theories about why people built their cities up on hills or mountainsides.
To save money on building, they would share walls in impoverished areas. The houses stood alone in the wealthier districts. They usually had only one floor but sometimes more than one. The roofs were thatched with grass or reed bundles tied with clay.
People went to great lengths to decorate their homes. The walls of the rooms were often painted a bright color such as red, yellow, or blue. Sometimes pictures of animals or other objects were used instead. In the oldest parts of the cities, people also decorated the ceilings of their rooms with large clay jars called muqarnas. These shapes can be seen in many buildings including mosques and churches. Even the king's palace had some beautiful paintings on the walls.
Carpets were used instead in the colder climates. The Babylonians especially were known for making fine carpets. Ships carrying cotton from India to Mesopotamia helped fuel the growth of this industry.
The most important thing in any home was the kitchen. It was where you got your food and cooked it too if you were a baker. If you were a brewer, you had an oven attached to the side of the house with hot springs under it so your bread wouldn't get moldy even though there was no air conditioning.
To make it easier to visit the temple and leave sacrifices to the gods, all of the homes were gathered around the ziggurat. The word "ziggurat" comes from the Assyrian language and means "tower of sun gods." Although there are no sun-god temples known today, the word still is used for these towers.
In Sumerian culture, the ziggurat was sacred land raised up by the gods on which houses were built. The highest level, called the god's room, was reserved for the chief god of the city. It was surrounded by an open courtyard where food was sacrificed to him. The next level down contained living quarters for his priests and servants. Below that was a garden. In some cases, there were additional floors added to the tower for storage or as animal shelters.
People wanted to live close to holy places, so they built their own small ziggurats near their homes or at sanctuaries far away from cities. The first recorded example of this building type is a Ziggurat in Ur, now in Iraq, that was built about 2500 B.C. By 500 B.C., however, only the pyramids remained as evidence of those who had built in Sumer many years earlier.
People erected their dwellings within the city's walls out of mud bricks. The walls were several feet thick to keep the heat out. A typical Sumerian city residence had a succession of rooms arranged around a courtyard. Palm leaves were commonly laid atop wooden beams to cover the courtyard. The roof was made of palm branches tied together with grass.
They also used wood for buildings, such as for fences or panels inside houses. Wood is easy to get, and useful for many things. It can be burned for fuel, which helps cool off the house during hot weather, while at the same time giving off water vapor that makes the room humid. Or it can be used to build structures such as platforms or shelves.
In fact, the earliest cities were mostly made up of wood, because stone wasn't available in large quantities until much later on. Even after people started using stone, they often built their own walls out of dirt and stones, since materials like cement or asphalt weren't known yet. The Babylonians, for example, built their own wall around their city over 10 times!
The first cities were probably made up of tents. Then people started building houses from wood or clay. Finally, after some time, people began building houses out of stone. But even though stone is hard, people still used wood for doors and windows because they were easier to come by than true stone materials.