The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King,
Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). During the reign of Naboplahar (625-605 BC) of the
Neo-Babylonian dynasty the Mesopotamian civilization reached its ultimate glory.
His son, Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled Babylon for 43 years, starting in 605 BC, is
credited with building the legendary Hanging Gardens.
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».
Herodotus claimed the outer walls were wide enough 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.
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 Media and Babylon. 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.
There is an alternative story that the gardens were built by the Assyrian
Queen Semiramis during her five year reign starting in 810 BC.
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 gardens were a series of five terraces of glazed bricks, each 15 metres
above the next. The terraces were built on top of stone arches and they were
connected by a winding stairway. The terraces were filled with dare and exotic
plants. A pumping device supplied water from Euphrates so the gardens could be
irrigated by fountains. Excavations have found an elaborate tunnel and pulley
system that apparently brought water from the ground level to the top terrace.
While the most descriptive accounts of the Gardens come from Greek
historians, 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.
It was not 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 final conclusions about the location of the
Gardens, their irrigation system, and their true appearance.
The greatness of this achieventment serves as an indication of the level of
ancient Babylonian art and architecture.