Hanging Garden of Babylon
The approach to the Garden
sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose
from one another tier on tier... On all this, the earth had been
piled... and was thickly planted with trees of every kind that,
by their great size and other charm, gave pleasure to the beholder...
The water machines [raised] the water in great abundance from the
river, although no one outside could see it.
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 the minds of Greek poets
and historians! This particular wonder of the ancient world is most
certainly an architectural miracle considering that these gardens
were created in a barren land where there was no greenery till afar,and
only one water source i.e the river Euphrates.Again there is no
concrete proof that these gardens existed at all.
The ancient city
of Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, must have been a wonder
to the traveler's eyes. "In addition to its size," wrote Herodotus,
a historian in 450 BC, "Babylon surpasses in splendor any city in
the known world."
the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet
high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn.
The inner walls were "not so thick as the first, but hardly less
strong." Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing
immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous
Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach
to the heavens.
examination has disputed some of Herodotus's claims (the outer walls
seem to be only 10 miles long and not nearly as high) his narrative
does give us a sense of how awesome the features of the city appeared
to those that visited it. Interestingly enough, though, one of the
city's most spectacular sites is not even mentioned by Herodotus:
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the
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.
that the garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled the
city for 43 years starting in 605 BC (There is a less-reliable,
alternative story that the gardens were built by the Assyrian Queen
Semiramis during her five year reign starting in 810 BC). This was
the height of the city's power and influence and King Nebuchadnezzar
constructed an astonishing array of temples, streets, palaces and
According to accounts,
the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar's homesick wife,
Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married
to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The
land she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and
she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing.
The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial
mountain with rooftop gardens.
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
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
The Greek geographer
Strabo, who described the gardens in first century BC, wrote,
"It consists of vaulted terraces raised one above another, and resting
upon cube-shaped pillars. These are hollow and filled with earth
to allow trees of the largest size to be planted. The pillars, the
vaults, and terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt."
"The ascent to the
highest story is by stairs, and at their side are water engines,
by means of which persons, appointed expressly for the purpose,
are continually employed in raising water from the Euphrates into
Strabo touchs on
what, to the ancients, was probably the most amazing part of the
garden. Babylon rarely received rain and for the garden to survive
it would have had to been irrigated by using water from the nearby
Euphrates River. That meant lifting the water far into the air so
it could flow down through the terraces, watering the plants at
each level. This was probably done by means of a "chain pump."
the garden wasn't only complicated by getting the water up to the
top, but also by having to avoid having the liquid ruin the foundation
once it was released. Since stone was difficult to get on the Mesopotamian
plain, most of the architecture in Babel utilized brick. The bricks
were composed of clay mixed with chopped straw and baked in the
sun. The bricks were then joined with bitumen, a slimy substance,
which acted as a mortar. These bricks quickly dissolved when soaked
with water. For most buildings in Babel this wasn't a problem because
rain was so rare. However, the gardens were continually exposed
to irrigation and the foundation had to be protected.
a Greek historian, stated that the platforms on which the garden
stood consisted of huge slabs of stone (otherwise unheard of in
Babel), covered with layers of reed, asphalt and tiles. Over this
was put "a covering with sheets of lead, that the wet which drenched
through the earth might not rot the foundation. Upon all these was
laid earth of a convenient depth, sufficient for the growth of the
greatest trees. When the soil was laid even and smooth, it was planted
with all sorts of trees, which both for greatness and beauty might
delight the spectators."
How big were the
gardens? Diodorus tells us it was about 400 feet wide by 400 feet
long and more than 80 feet high. Other accounts indicate the height
was equal to the outer city walls. Walls that Herodotus said were
320 feet high.
In any case the
gardens were an amazing sight: A green, leafy, artificial mountain
rising off the plain. But did it actually exist? After all, Herodotus
never mentions it. Nothing remains of these luxuriant terraces.
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.
The Hanging Gardens
probably did not really "hang" in the sense of being suspended from
cables or ropes. The name comes from an inexact translation of the
Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis, which
mean not just "hanging", but "overhanging" as in the case of a terrace
or balcony. The Hanging Gardens ofBabylon have long since disappeared.
Some stories indicate
the Hanging Gardens towered hundreds of feet into the air, but archaeological
explorations indicate a more modest, but still impressive, height.Some
recent researchers even suggest that the Hanging Gardens were built
by Senaherib, not by Nebuchadnezzar II (ca. 100 years earlier).
This was one of
the questions that occurred to German archaeologist Robert Koldewey
in 1899. For centuries before that the ancient city of Babel was
nothing but a mound of muddy debris. Though unlike many ancient
locations, the city's position was well-known, nothing visible remained
of its architecture. Koldewey dug on the Babel site for some fourteen
years and unearthed many of its features including the outer walls,
inner walls, foundation of the Tower of Babel, Nebuchadnezzar's
palaces and the wide processional roadway which passed through the
heart of the city.
the Southern Citadel, Koldewey discovered a basement with fourteen
large rooms with stone arch ceilings. Ancient records indicated
that only two locations in the city had made use of stone, the north
wall of the Northern Citadel, and the Hanging Gardens. The north
wall of the Northern Citadel had already been found and had, indeed,
contained stone. This made it seem likely that Koldewey had found
the cellar of the gardens.
He continued exploring
the area and discovered many of the features reported by Diodorus.
Finally a room was unearthed with three large, strange holes in
the floor. Koldewey concluded this had been the location of the
chain pumps that raised the water to the garden's roof.
that Koldewey discovered measured some 100 by 150 feet. Smaller
than the measurements described by ancient historians, but still
One can only wonder
if Queen Amyitis was happy with her fantastic present, or if she
continued to pine for the green mountains of her homeland
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.