Fruits and flowers... Waterfalls... Gardens hanging from
the palace terraces... Exotic animals... This is the picture of the Hanging
Gardens of Babylon in most people's minds. It may be surprising to know
that they might have never existed except in Greek poets and historians
On the east bank of the River Euphrates, about 50 km south of Baghdad,
The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King, Hammurabi
(1792-1750 BC). It was not until the reign of Naboplashar (625-605 BC)
of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization reached
its ultimate glory. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited
for building the legendary Hanging Gardens. It is said that the Gardens
were built by Nebuchadnezzar to please his wife or concubine who had been
"brought up in Media and had a passion for mountain surroundings".
While the most descriptive accounts of the Gardens come
from Greek historians such as Berossus and Diodorus Siculus, Babylonian
records stay silent on the matter. Tablets from the time of Nebuchadnezzar
do not have a single reference to the Hanging Gardens, although descriptions
of his palace, the city of Babylon, and the walls are found. Even the
historians who give detailed descriptions of the Hanging Gardens never
saw them. Modern historians argue that when Alexander's soldiers reached
the fertile land of Mesopotamia and saw Babylon, they were impressed.
When they later returned to their rugged homeland, they had stories to
tell about the amazing gardens and palm trees at Mesopotamia.. About the
palace of Nebuchadnezzar.. About the Tower of Babel and the ziggurats.
And it was the imagination of poets and ancient historians that blended
all these elements together to produce one of the World Wonders.
It wasn't until the twentieth century that some of the
mysteries surrounding the Hanging Gardens were revealed. Archaeologists
are still struggling to gather enough evidence before reaching the final
conclusions about the location of the Gardens, their irrigation system,
and their true appearance.
Detailed descriptions of the Gardens come from ancient Greek sources,
including the writings of Strabo and Philo of Byzantium. Here are some
excerpts from their accounts:
"The Garden is quadrangular, and each side is four plethra
long. It consists of arched vaults which are located on checkered cube-like
foundations.. The ascent of the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway..."
"The Hanging Garden has plants cultivated above ground
level, and the roots of the trees are embedded in an upper terrace rather
than in the earth. The whole mass is supported on stone columns... Streams
of water emerging from elevated sources flow down sloping channels...
These waters irrigate the whole garden saturating the roots of plants
and keeping the whole area moist. Hence the grass is permanently green
and the leaves of trees grow firmly attached to supple branches... This
is a work of art of royal luxury and its most striking feature is that
the labor of cultivation is suspended above the heads of the spectators".
More recent archaeological excavations at the ancient
city of Babylon in Iraq uncovered the foundation of the palace. Other
findings include the Vaulted Building with thick walls and an irrigation
well near the southern palace. A group of archaeologists surveyed the
area of the southern palace and reconstructed the Vaulted Building as
the Hanging Gardens. However, the Greek historian Strabo had stated that
the gardens were situated by the River Euphrates. So others argue that
the site is too far from the Euphrates to support the theory since the
Vaulted Building is several hundreds of meters away. They reconstructed
the site of the palace and located the Gardens in the area stretching
from the River to the Palace. On the river banks, recently discovered
massive walls 25 m thick may have been stepped to form terraces... the
ones described in Greek references.