This probably the most romantic and poetic wonder of the world is not only long gone, but its existence is also up for dispute. The lack of documentation of its subsistence in the chronicles of Babylonian history makes many doubt if the wonderful gardens ever pleased the eye of a human or were just a figment of ancient poets and novelists. Below I deliver some key points and facts about the Hanging Gardens and let your nature, not mind, be the judge.. if you’re a hopeless romantic you’ll overcome the gaps and the image of lush greenery, fountains and colorful flowers cascading from the sky will rise in its entire splendor.
1. There are two equally credible theories about who build the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, they are assumed to be the work either of semilegendary Queen Sammu-ramat (Greek Semiramis), the Assyrian queen who reigned from 810 to 783 BC, or of King Nebuchadrezzar II, the king of the Babylonian Empire, who reigned c. 605 BC – 562 BC. Though there are no compelling arguments about the credibility of any of the assumptions, the hanging Gardens of Babylon are often called the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis.
2. A few words about the first possible builder, Semiramis:Through the centuries the legend of Semiramis attracted not only the attention of Greek historians, but she also was the muse of novelists, poets and other storytellers. Great warrior queens in history have been called the Semiramis of their times. A “gossip” around her name would have made a beautiful yellow press headline – “Semiramis is said to have had a long string of one-night-stands with handsome soldiers”. Another “rumor” may become an inspiration for horror film makers – they say that she had each lover killed after a night of passion, so that her power would not be threatened by a man who presumed on their relationship.
3. As for the other supposed builder – King Nebuchadrezzar II (reigned c. 605– c.561 BC), it is said that he built the legendary gardens to console his wife Amytis of Media, because she was homesick for the mountains and greenery of her homeland. Nebuchadnezzar II is most widely known through his portrayal in the Bible, according to the Bible, he conquered Judah and Jerusalem, and sent the Jews into exile.
4. The gardens, presumed to have been located on or near the east bank of the River Euphrates, about 31 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. A more recent theory proposes that the gardens were actually constructed in the city of Nineveh, on the bank of the river Tigris. It is possible that Through the ages, the location of the Hanging Gardens may have been confused with gardens that existed at the city of Nineveh, since tablets from the place clearly show gardens.
5. The gardens were about 75 feet (22 meters) high. The image of the gardens is impressive not only for its blossoming flowers, ripe fruit, gushing waterfalls, terraces lush with rich foliage, and exotic creatures, but also for the engineering feat of supplying the massive, raised gardens with soil and water. German architect and archaeologist Robert Koldewey who is known for revealing the semilegendary Babylon as a geographic and historical reality, discovered huge vaults and arches at the site. He also uncovered an ancient hydraulic system like a pump drawing water from the river.
6. The hanging gardens didn’t actually hang… The name “hanging” comes from the Greek word “kremastos” or the Latin word “pensilis”, which mean more “overhanging” than just “hanging” as in the case of a terrace or balcony. The gardens were probably developed on a structure like a ziggurat and built in the form of elevated terraces, so that the gardens were at different levels which grew around and on top of a building.
7. Here is a puzzle: In Herodotus’ description of the city of Babylon (Histories, Book I, sections 178-184), where he claims to have been to Babylon himself, he fails to mention the gardens, this is usually taken as proof that they did not exist. But a Dutch historian Jona Lendering thinks that Herodotus’ description of Babylon is so extraordinary that he even characterises it as “nonsensical”. The 18th-century Historian, Edward Gibbon goes even further and accuses Herodotus of never having set foot in Babylon at all. Despite these considerations, if you try to sketch out the city plan as herodotus describes it, you’ll see that it’s pretty accurate in relation to archaeological maps… so how come that he never mentions the Gardens?
image source: www.bible-history.com
8. Another proof of the consideration that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon never actually existed are many thousands of clay tablets from that period in Babylon. Stone tablets from Nebuchadnezzar’s reign give detailed descriptions of the city of Babylonia, its walls, and the palace, but do not refer to the Hanging Gardens. Some historians claim that the warriors in the army of Alexander the Great were amazed at the immense prosperity of the thriving city of Babylon and tended to exaggerate their experiences greatly. When the soldiers returned to their stark homeland, they had incredible stories to relate about the remarkable gardens, palm trees, and imposing buildings of rich and fertile Mesopotamia.
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9. In ancient writings the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were first described by Berossus, a Chaldaean (a dynasty in Babylonian history) priest who lived in the late 4th century B.C. In his book Babyloniaca, written around 280 B.C. The book is lost, but it was summarized by Alexander Polyhistor in C1 BC in a treatise of 42 books on world history and geography which is also lost. That treatise, however, was used by Josephus (37–100 AD), who discussed the gardens twice – once in Jewish Antiquities, and once in Contra Apionem (Against Apion, or Against the Greeks).
10. Ancient Greek historians, Strabo, Philo and Diodorus gave us these description of the hanging gardens of Babylon:
- “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…” (Strabo)
- “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.” (Philo)
- “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.” (Diodorus)
11. Recent archaeological digs at Babylon have unearthed a major palace, a vaulted building with thick walls (perhaps the one mentioned by Greek historians), and an irrigation well in proximity to the palace. Although an archaeological team surveyed the palace site and presented a reconstruction of the vaulted building as being the actual Hanging Gardens, accounts by Strabo place the Hanging Gardens at another location, nearer the Euphrates River. Other archaeologists insist that since the vaulted building is thousands of feet from the Euphrates, it is too distant to support the original claims even if Strabo happened to be wrong about the location. The latter team reconstructed the site of the palace, placing the Hanging Gardens in a zone running from the river to the palace. Interestingly, on the banks of the Euphrates, a newly discovered, immense, 82-foot thick wall may have been stepped to form terraces like those mentioned by the ancient Greek sources.
image source: Raymond Kleboe/Picture Post/Getty Images
12. Archaeologists and historians believe that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were not destroyed by an earthquake but by other minor disasters such as: erosion and warfare. The huge construction probably started falling apart under the influence of the weather. Armies and other raiders could have been for its eventual destruction and disappearance. After about 600 or 700 years, the whole structure had been levelled to the ground.