Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Hanging Gardens in BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

Of all the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the most intriguing one would be perhaps the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylonia’ it may make one think it had been built dangling on strings! It was actually a gigantic many storied structure with all sorts of trees and plants placed up above high galleries built in several tiers. It had an irrigation system that could marvel the present day ones. Its pathways were so wide it could enable a four horse chariot to pass. The Hanging Garden of Babylon is said to be made by a king to please his queen; let’s go and see it.


Now we are at Babylon or Bab ilim meaning ‘gate of god’ it was the capital of Babylonia Empire in 2nd and 1st millennia BC. It was a city of ancient Mesopotamia which flourished as point in an important trade route between Persian Gulf and Mediterranean. It was a holy city at 2300 BC located between Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The location of Babylon was in the present day Iraq, ruins of this ancient culture are still visible in the Al Hillah region, Babil Province of Iraq about 85 km south of Baghdad.

One Garden two queens

There are two women (both queens) whose names stand associated with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the foremost among them is Amytis queen of Nebuchadnezzar; the other one with some ‘rich history’ is Semiramis queen of Ninus.

Made to the order of Amytis

Hanging Gardens in BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

The time of its construction was 600 BC, the country where it built was Babylonia, the king who built it was Nebuchadnezzar II and the name of his queen was Amytis daughter of Cynaxares the king of Media. It is said that the marriage between Nebuchadnezzar and Amytis was made to formalize the alliance between Babylonia and Media dynasties. She felt homesick and wanted the trees and plants of her homeland with her; the king had to oblige it.

Gardens of Semiramis (Sammu ramat)

The other one associated with this garden as this garden (as it is also known as Gardens of Semiramis) was the queen of Ninus the king of Babylonia. She is believed to be the daughter of Fish Goddess Derketo. Soon after the birth of Semiramis her goddess mother disappeared in the river and the child was fed by doves until it was found by Simmas. The Simmas brought her up; later gave her in marriage to a general of Ninus the king. Ninus got attracted by her heavenly beauty and married her; forcing the general to commit suicide. It is said that she later caused the death of King Ninus and took over the control of the nation. She proved to be an able ruler and did many things; along with the construction of the garden.

The Greek documents

Hanging Gardens in BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

According to Diodorus this garden is 400 feet long, 400 feet wide and 80 feet in height, built on tiers to resemble theater, with vaults built beneath to carry weight of the planted garden, the upper most vaults is 75 feet high; which is the uppermost part of the garden, the same level of city-wall. Its roof made of stone beams 16 feet long on which tar coated reed was laid, over that two layers of baked brick bonded by cement and a final covering of lead; done to prevent seepage of water! On the top of this lead coating enough soil to grow plants from big trees to small herbs all with flowers of strong fragrance –the queen’s wish!

A soldiers’ (cock and bull) story!

The modern world so far depended entirely upon the references from Greek writers like Strabo, Borossus and Diodorus and etc for understanding the shape and structure of this wonderful creation. It was also a fact that even these writers who have described about this garden in detail had not actually seen it. It was the Alexander’s army who spread the existence of such wonderful things they saw on their way.

There were also many other wonderful things in their stories like the Tower of Babel and Ziggurats (stepped towers built of mud or brick during the ancient period). As the news spread those with rich power of imagination were busy in adding color to the already colorful garden.

The garden; as per Diodorus

Hanging Gardens in BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

Babylon lies in a plain, its walls are385 stadia (one stadia = 185 meters) in length, its thickness allows four-horse chariot to pass over, on this account is one of the seven wonders of the world. The garden is quadrangular, covered with earth so deep even largest trees accommodated, columns constructed in backed bricks and asphalt, ascent to uppermost terrace by stairs, water from Euphrates drawn continuously by screws by people engaged for it. The river flows through the middle of the city, garden on the bank of the river.

A fact becomes a fiction

The stories told by these soldiers spread like wild fire and the whole world came to know about the wonders that existed in a mysterious world that was Babylon which was far away from them. Historians recorded them in their books; they used imagination to fill the gaps with poetic talents making the whole concept weird!

Modern Archaeology to the rescue

Fortunately science has come to the rescue of a garden that was being placed in to the status of a myth or as a figment of imagination of some drunken soldiers. There must be some fire beneath this smoke was majority opinion.

Robert Koldewey a German architect and archaeologist belonged to the majority and he was in search of the fire beneath the smoke. He toiled 14 years in the site digging and analyzing the mud! There was only a heap of mud where the Tower of Babel stood. He was not disheartened; instead he dug deeper and recovered the foundations of the city walls both outer and inner, palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the pathway for ceremonial procession etc.

Koldewey finds the treasure

In the site where the garden stood he could retrieve the foundation of the fourteen large rooms with stone arch ceilings; the ancient records stated there were only two structures made of stone. Finally Koldewey had stumbled upon the cellar of the elusive garden that stood as support to the balconies of the garden.

Next thing Koldewey did was to compare the remnants with the descriptions given by Diodorus, a room with three holes came to his sight; close study revealed three unnatural holes on its walls; these are the holes made for fixing the pump that drew water from the river to the uppermost balcony of the garden!

Doubting Toms

Still there are doubting toms among archaeologists; some opine;

1. The site was on the banks of Euphrates River as referred in the ancient records, and Koldewey’s site is at a distance from the river and that would have made irrigation to a garden of such a size almost impossible.

2. The foundation dug out by Koldewey was 100 into 150 smaller than the descriptions given in the books.

3. The tablets recently recovered from the site state that the site was used for administrative and storage purpose; hence it does not match with a garden for pleasure.


Hanging Gardens in BabylonHanging Gardens of Babylon

Behind the descriptions of historians a book written by Berossus (Chronicles of Babylonian History) a famous astrologer of 3rd century BC also have been worked as reference. Hence simply ruling out the very existence as a myth is unacceptable.

Of these doubts the location of the site is a real issue, there must be some error in some statements. The second thing the difference in the size of the foundation recovered can be understood as the historians had not visited the site and what they relied was sayings of the soldiers who had never measured it!

That stated in the tablet is ok building a garden on a site built for some other purpose is not uncommon especially if it is done for the visual pleasure of the ruling queen! May be the site served dual purpose; both visual pleasure along with storage! Is there anything that forbids a multipurpose structure? A thing of beauty is a joy for ever!


Anonymous said...

very nice! just found this... I am studying ancient Mesopotamia (and occasionally write about it) and today's topic was the hanging gardens...

I love the images you've selected; will have to go re-read much more thoroughly and browse your blog further

brooke said...

well done! i am working on a assignment that includes this. If only i could find out how to locate the Hanging Gardens...

Anonymous said...

Well done! I happened to be doing an assignment on this when I found it. If only i could figure out how to locate the Hanging Gardens...