The true location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon remains an unsolved mystery, but the latest research suggests looking in an entirely different place will yield greater results.
With its terracing crammed with trees and vegetation, this artistic imagining of Babylon’s Hanging Gardens takes inspiration from the writings of various classical authors.
Later theories proposed that the gardens ascended the tiers of the stepped Ziggurat, seen in the background.
Most modern historians, however, consider that to have been structurally unfeasible to build and maintain.
Around the year 225 B.C. a Greek engineer, Philo, produced a list of seven temata—“things to be seen”
—that are better known today as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World:
the Pyramids of Giza;
the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus;
the Statue of Zeus at Olympia;
the Colossus of Rhodes;
the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus;
the Pharos of Alexandria;
and the most mysterious of all .......... the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
“Nature has created countless number of wonders, we got a long way to go as man have created only seven wonders.” ― Amit Kalantri
As described by the Greek historian Herodotus in 460 B.C. during his visit to Babylon
the gardens were regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Located by Koldeway at the NE corner of Nebuchadnezzar's palace near the Ishtar Gate, the gardens were probably developed on a ziggurat like foundation and built in the form of elevated terraces.
Among Koldeway's discoveries at the site were several vaults and massive arches, which may have formed the base of the structure.
He also uncovered spaces that were consistent with the functioning of an ancient hydrolic system similar to a chain pump.
It has been estimated that the gardens, which were laid out at different levels, grew within or on top of a building that itself was about 75 feet high.
Such an elevated terrace would form a prominent landmark, visible from a considerable distance in a city set on a flat plain.
Built by Nebuchadnezzar, the gardens are thought to have been designed for his wife Amytis, daughter of King Astyages.
who was homesick for the mountains and vegetation of Media her native land.
Apart from Babylon, all the monuments on Philo’s Wonder list lie in or near the eastern Mediterranean, well within the Hellenist sphere of influence.
The Hanging Gardens, however, are an eastern outlier,
“a long journey to the land of the Persians on the far side of the Euphrates.”
When Philo wrote those words, Babylon, and the Persians, had been subdued a century before, by Alexander the Great, who had died in Babylon in 323 B.C.
Despite the expansion of Greek culture eastward into Central Asia with Alexander’s armies, Babylon and its famed monuments would have struck Philo’s readers as highly exotic and remote.
The Hanging Gardens, Philo writes,
“were laid out on a large platform of palm beams raised up on stone columns.”.
This trellis of palm beams was covered with a thick layer of soil and planted with all kinds of trees and flowers.
“labor of cultivation suspended above the heads of the spectators.”
Aside from its hanging description, the gardens’ wondrous nature lay, according to Philo, partly in their variety:
“All kinds of flowers, whatever is the most delightful, agreeable and pleasant to the eyes, is there.”
Their system of irrigation also inspired great wonder:
“Water, collected on high in numerous ample containers, reaches the whole garden.”
To romanticize the world is to make us aware of the magic, mystery and wonder of the world; it is to educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite.
Historians can reference many classical writers who mention the infamous gardens of Babylon.
The first-century B.C. geographer Strabo and historian Diodorus Siculus both described the gardens as a “wonder.”
Diodorus, a Greek author from Italy, left one of the greatest descriptions of the gardens as part of his monumental history of the world, Bibliotheca historica. ... a collection of over fourty books.
Like Philo, he detailed an elaborate system of supporting “beams”:
These consisted of “a layer of reeds laid in great quantities of bitumen.
Over this is laid two courses of baked brick, bonded by cement and as a third layer a covering of lead, to the end that the moisture from the soil might not penetrate beneath.”
These layers, according to Diodorus, rose in ascending tiers like that of a ziggarat.
They were “thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size or other charm, could give pleasure to the beholder,” and were irrigated “by machines raising the water in great abundance from the river.”
After much puzzling over Philo’s, Diodorus’s, and other first-century B.C. accounts of Babylon and its monuments, historians have traced the earliest written sources back to Greek scholars working during and just after the reign of Alexander the Great.
Diodorus and Strabo, for example, both drew on accounts of Babylon from fourth-century B.C. writers such as Callisthenes, Alexander’s court historian and great-nephew of the philosopher Aristotle.
Scholars believe that the passage in Diodorus’s Bibliotheca historica that describes the Hanging Gardens is derived from a work by a biographer of Alexander the Great, Cleitarchus, who was writing in the late fourth century B.C. His work has not survived but is known through allusions by other authors.
The biography was a colorful and gossipy account of Alexander’s age.it gave a great wonderous account of many things from that era.
Another important source of information on the gardens was written by a Babylonian priest named Berossus who lived in the early third century B.C.
(soon after the time of Cleitarchus, and several decades before Philo).
Examining the other accounts of his lost writings, Berossus seems to have left us details about the gardens that inspired artists for centuries afterward.
Berossus also wrote that King Nebuchadrezzar II constructed the gardens in Babylon in honor of his wife, Amytis of Media,
who longed for the lush mountain landscape of her native Persia.
This romantic story has helped fixate the gardens in the popular imagination of many writers.
But historians are faced with a problem:
All sources that reference a Babylonian garden remarkable for being suspended or tiered date from the fourth century B.C. at the earliest.
The Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the fifth century B.C.— only a century after the time of Nebuchadrezzar—makes no mention of these remarkable gardens when describing Babylon in his Histories.
Further dashing hopes that documentary evidence would shed light on the gardens, the texts that have been discovered from the time of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign contain no mention at all of any elevated gardens in the city.
Following a recent investigation,
Oxford University Assyriologist Stephanie Dalley has argued that the Hanging Gardens were not built by King Nebuchadrezzar II in Babylon at all, but in Nineveh by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.).
Her thesis relies on the annals of his reign, which have been found inscribed on prism-shaped stones. In one the king boasts of the extensive monument-building he undertook:
“I raised the height of the surroundings of the palace to be a Wonder for all peoples . . . A high garden imitating the Amanus mountains I laid out next to it with all kinds of aromatic plants.”
With its reference to wonder and height, the passage echoes many of the key aspects attributed to the Hanging Gardens.
Just as classical writers referred to Babylon’s king imitating the landscape of Persia, Sennacherib’s annals detail the gardens’ imitation of Mount Amanus, a range in the extreme south of modern-day Turkey.
A relief from the time of Sennacherib’s grandson, Ashurbanipal (668-627 B.C.), depicts gardens with trees distributed across a slope topped by a pavilion.
Water flows from an aqueduct to feed a series of channels filled with fish.
The theory that this Ninevan pleasure park could well have been the famed Hanging Gardens is bolstered further by Sennacherib’s reputation for engineering innovation.
He declared himself to be of “clever understanding.”
The archives of his reign abound with references to ingenious irrigation systems, and some historians credit him with the invention of the Archimedes water screw.
Archaeologists have also found an aqueduct system, built during his reign from two million blocks of stone, that brought water to the city across the Jerwan valley.
The Jerwan structure lies on the route to Alexander the Great’s decisive battle with the Persians, at Gaugamela, in 331 B.C. Dalley argues that it is likely Alexander saw the aqueduct as he passed Nineveh.
His inquiries into the sophisticated water systems and gardens of that city seeded the story of the Hanging Gardens, which scholarly confusion then misattributed to Babylon.
If the theory is true, it would solve a great archaeological mystery, and leave few in doubt that the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh were the true wonder of the world!