Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel


Here’s a picture whose myriad details I’ve wanted to scrutinise for many years. Lieven Cruyl was the draughtsman and Coenraet Decker the etcher while the picture itself appears as an illustration in Athanasius Kircher’s (deep breath) Turris Babel, Sive Archontologia Qua Primo Priscorum post diluvium hominum vita, mores rerumque gestarum magnitudo, Secundo Turris fabrica civitatumque exstructio, confusio linguarum, & inde gentium transmigrationis, cum principalium inde enatorum idiomatum historia, multiplici eruditione describuntur & explicantur. The book was published in 1679 and, among other speculations, features Kircher’s eye-popping illustration (below) showing how tall the Tower of Babel would have to be in order to reach the Moon. I used part of the big illustration in a cover design for metal band Melechesh in 2006.


The copies here are from a scanned volume at the University of Heidelberg where the pages have suffered slightly from bookworm. But the resolution is high enough to explore a picture crawling with tiny details, from the bristling scaffolding at the top of the structure, and the houses (for the workers?) built on the ramps lower down, to a procession of camels and other beasts being led towards the main entrance. In the background there are smaller towers and a few pyramids (Kircher explored the latter elsewhere in the book), and also a harbour with beast-headed sailing ships. The full-size picture may be explored here.


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