Apr 19, 2011

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Part Two

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Legend says the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built by King Nebuchadnezzar in 600 B.C. for his queen, Amyitis, who missed the mountains and greenery of her homeland.

The Hanging Gardens probably did not really hang but were built on terraces which were part of a ziggurat and was irrigated by water lifted up from the Euphrates. The name comes from an inexact translation of the Greek word kremastos, or the Latin word pensilis, which means not just "hanging", but "overhanging" as in the case of a terrace or balcony.

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus gave one of the best accounts of the site:
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.

Impressive not only for its beauty, the gardens would also have required an impressive feat of engineering to supply the massive structure with soil and water. There were paths and steps and fountains and gorgeous flowers. The gardens were rumoured to be about 400 feet wide, 400 feet long, and over 80 feet high. Some historians believe the gardens were built in a series of platforms that all together were 320 feet high.

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, which made some historians question whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ever actually existed.

In 1899, German archaeologist Robert Koldewey discovered a basement with fourteen large rooms with stone arch ceilings while excavating the Southern Citadel at Babylon. 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. The foundations that Koldewey discovered measured some 100 by 150 feet. Smaller than the measurements described by ancient historians, but still impressive.

While Koldewey was convinced he'd found the gardens, some modern archaeologists call his discovery into question, arguing that this location is too far from the river to have been irrigated with the amount of water that would have been required. Also, tablets recently found at the site suggest that the location was used for administrative and storage purposes, not as a pleasure garden.

It can be argued, however, that the Hanging Gardens are not mentioned in the Babylonian stone tablets because they were considered part of the ziggurat structure and not a separate entity in itself.

We may never know for sure whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon really did exist. If the gardens did exist, they were most likely destroyed by an earthquake in the second century B.C. In this case, the fallen remains, mostly made of mud-brick, would have slowly eroded away over the centuries.


Tara Tyler said...

how do you find time to do so much research!
funny thing, my bible class is studying Nebuchadnezzar's rule this Sunday, I will have to mention this =)

C R Ward said...

I have to admit, the research on this series is a killer. :-)