Like other kings, Ashurnasirpal II had his palace overlook the river. Just south of the Northwest Palace was a temple to Ninurta and another to Ishtar. A soft local landstone was used called Mosul marble, which was decorated with paint and glazed bricks. The palace was 200m from north to south and 120m from east to west. It followed two new Assyrian plan types, bitanu (outer) and babanu (inner), which resulted in two courtyards connected by a throne room: an outer courtyard for public affairs; and through a monumental gateway was an inner courtyard for residential affairs.
The outer courtyard had offices and storerooms, as well as a South Wall (aka South Facade) that doubled as the throne room's facade. This facade was lined with stone orthostats carved in relief with a level of skill unprecedented before Ashurnasirpal II. The South Wall had three gates into the throne, each of which was flanked by colossal lamassu. To the left of these gates was the room containing the Banquet Stele.
King Ashurnasirpal appears twice, dressed in ritual robes and holding the mace symbolising authority. In front of him there is a Sacred Tree, possibly symbolising life, and he makes a gesture of worship to winged disc containing a god, maybe the sun god Shamash. The god has a ring in one hand, an ancient Mesopotamian symbol of god given kingship. There are protective spirits on either side behind the king.
This symmetrical scene, heavy with symbolism, was placed behind the royal throne. There was another opposite the main door of the throne room, and similar scenes occupied prominent positions in some other Assyrian palaces; they were also embroidered on the royal clothes.
King Ashurnasirpal is enthroned between attendants and the group is flanked by a pair of winged protective spirits. The workmanship of these panels, a banquet hall, is exceptionally fine. Detailed patterns are represented by delicate incisions on the clothes. There are traces of paint on the sandals.
This group of panels shows scenes which alternated along one long wall. In one scene the king appears as conqueror with bow and arrows, flanked by protective spirits. In the other he holds a bow and a bowl and is flanked by human attendants.
Tribute-bearers. Assyria ~865-860 BC. From Ashurnasirpal II's Northwest Palace at Nimrud.
British Museum, ME 124562. Image © L M Clancy, 2009.
Two of a group of tribute-bearers who were shown on the facade of the throne room. The first one has a turban of a kind worn in northwest Syria, his raised clenched hands a token of submission. The second may be Phoenician, is bringing a pair of monkeys. The Assyrian kings enjoyed collecting exotic fauna.
Relief of Ashurnasirpal II with sword and staff, from his Northwest Palace at Nimrud. Room S Panel 3 (possibly his personal apartments). Assyrian, ~865-860 BC. British Museum, ME 124563. Image © L M Clancy, 2009.
Within the Northwest Palace was the Banquet Stele, a large sandstone slab near the entrance to a throne-room. It described in extensive detail the opulent 10-day inauguration of the Northwest Palace in ~879 BC, attended by workmen, officials, inhabitants and notable guests. In the center of the stele was a relief of Ashurnasirpal II standing in front of the deities Sin, Assur, Enlil, Adad and Sibitti. The text tells of 69,574 guests enjoying a dizzying array of luxurious foods amidst gardens whose every plant is listed.
Also, the Banquet Stele lists all the woods used to build a terrace supporting Ashurnasirpal II's palace: boxwood, mulberry, cedar, cypress, pistachio, tamarisk and poplar. There are also descriptions of the royal orchards, its 42 varieties of fruit and its canal irrigation. Boastful depictions of royal lion and bull hunts are also present. Incidentally, this is one of the most extensive accounts of botany and diet in Assyria.