The Tower of Babel forms the focus of a story told in the Book of Genesis of the Bible. According to the story, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar.
The Tower of Babel is the subject of three oil paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The first, a miniature painted on ivory, was painted while Bruegel was in Rome and is now lost. The two surviving paintings depict the construction of the Tower of Babel, which according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, was a tower built by a unified, monolingual humanity as a mark of their achievement and to prevent them from scattering: "Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'" (Genesis 11:4). The person in the foreground is likely Nimrod, who was said to have ordered the construction of the Tower.
Bruegel's depiction of the architecture of the tower, with its numerous arches and other examples of Roman engineering, is deliberately reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, which Christians of the time saw as both a symbol of hubris and persecution. Bruegel had visited Rome in 1552–1553. Back in Antwerp, he must have refreshed his memory of Rome with a series of engravings of the principal landmarks of the city made by the publisher of his own prints, Hieronymous Cock, for he incorporated details of Cock's Roman engravings in both surviving versions of the Tower of Babel with few significant alterations.
The Tower of Babel is on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Another painting of the same subject The "Little" Tower of Babel, c. 1563, is in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.