Moenjodaro; Threatened Centre of an Ancient Civilization

By Naqvi, Syed A. | UNESCO Courier, July 1985 | Go to article overview

Moenjodaro; Threatened Centre of an Ancient Civilization


Naqvi, Syed A., UNESCO Courier


MOENJODARO Threatened centre of an ancient civilization

MOENJODARO, a metropolis of the five-thousand-year-old Indus Valley civilization in Pakstan, presents the earliest example of town-planning and a setting for the future. Even in the limited area laid bare by the archaeologist's spade, it is like walking through a fossilized embryo of Manhattan. In the lower city, we find the crisscross grid-iron system of street layout, a broad boulevard over nine metres wide, running north to south and crossed at right angles by somewhat smaller east-west streets. The blocks of residential houses between are served by narrow lanes.

The prime considerations in planning the houses were safety and comfort. Avaoiding the risk of heavy traffic on the main streets, the doors of the houses usually opened on to the side-lanes. Interior courtyards provided light and air, and windows were screened with grilles of terra-cotta or alabaster. The thickness of the walls of the houses in Moenjodaro proves the existence of at least two-storey-high structures. Most houses had stairways that led either to the second storey or to the roof, often used in Pakistan and elsewhere in the East as a cool sleeping place in summer. Besides other basic amenities, many houses also had wells for water supply which were lined with brickwork and had protective revetments at their head to prevent accidents to children and domestic animals.

The grid layout and residential architecture are not the only indications of the perception and care that went into the planning of Moenjodaro. Never before, and not until Greek and Roman times, was so much attention paid to sanitation and civic facilities. The water-discharge sluices from the houses first collected the refuse in small cesspits lined with bricks at the base of the walls, from which the dirty water was led through conduits to the main drains which ran along the streets below pavement level and were covered with sturdy bricks. This drainage system ws connected to the larger sewerage outlets, also covered at the top, which finally led the dirty water outside the populated area.

A few hundre metres to the west to this densely built part of the city, excavations have revealed some most conspicuous monuments located on an artificial hill some seven to fourteen metres high. The Great Bath, a highly complex brick structure, symbolizes a triumph of engineering at that time. The pool, 11.9 metres long, 7 metres wide and 1.9 metres deep, was made watertight by an inner facing of bricks set on edge in gypsum mortar which was laid over a layer of asphalt 2.5 cm thick trowelled on to double brick walls. The floor sloped to an outlet that led in turn to a corbelled arched drain. This corbelled arch was one of the earliest achievements of architectural engineering spanning an opening without using wooden beams. (The possibilities of spanning wider openings were extended later on by the discovery of the keystone, and in our times developed still further with the use of reinforced concrete.)

A second architectural feature is the podium of the great Granary situated on the western flank of the mound. The podium, made of solid brick squre-shaped platforms separated by a gridiron of straight and narrow passages, is thought to have been covered by a floor of wooden boards, and probably the superstructure was also made of wood. It has been suggested that it served as a State Treasury to which bullock carts brought sacks of grain from farmers, since in those days coins had not yet been minted. A quantity of charred grains of wheat collected from the excavations puts the nature of the building beyond any doubt. A third important building in this area is the Pillared Hall. It has twenty pillars and encloses a small courtyard, and probably served as the centre of administration.

The purpose of some of Moenjodaro's sophisticated structures is one of the many questions that still remain unanswered about the city. …

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