The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have fascinated historians for thousands of years. King Nebuchadnezzar II is credited with building the gardens in 601 B.C. as a present for his wife. Though there is great controversy and debate surrounding the gardens, there are many reasons to believe the gardens did in fact exist. Multiple ancient texts attest to their creation, however, their omission from Babylonian texts has put their existence into question. Several Greek historians wrote about them. What might be most impressive regarding the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is that they were not suspended from their location through means of ropes or twine, but rather were place on a multi-terraced surface that gave the impression of a hanging garden.

The garden’s structure is believed to have been an estimated 400 x 400 feet, while some historians believe 400 x 320 feet may have been more accurate. Regardless of the garden’s measurements, they are believed to have been one of the most magnificent gardens known to ancient civilization and are viewed by many as the earliest form of hydroponic gardening. Though the gardens did not hang in the air, they did overhang. In fact, the Greek word used to describe the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is “kremastos” which means to overhang. Historians have suggested that the gardens were built on an inclined plane, due to the varied terraced surfaces that encompassed multiple levels. It is believed that much of the flowers were exotic and King Nebuchadnezzar II imported them to please his homesick wife, Amyitis, from Mede. If King Nebuchadnezzar’s collection of exotic flowers blooming from their multi-terraced foundation in the desert did exist, it was truly a wonder to behold.

Historians believe that King Nebuchadnezzar II built the multi-terraced foundations upon large slabs of stone. As this was virtually unheard of, it is more likely that the stones were composed of baked bricks. Babylon (current day Iraq) Is not prone to heavy rains and many have questioned how the exotic flora would have thrived in the harsh, desert conditions; especially when it is considered that King Nebuchadnezzar used exotic flowers for the garden terrace. It has been suggested that an irrigation system may have been put in place that would have started a flow of water from the top level that streamed down to the lower levels. Archaeologists have found evidence for irrigation tunnel systems that would carry ground water from low levels upwards. An early working pulley system combined with buckets that were regularly lowered into the Euphrates River to carry water to the top levels would have accomplished this. Historians suggest that the Hanging Gardens were ultimately destroyed by a first century earthquake that leveled it to ruins.

Much of what has been learned about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon has been attributed to the archaeologist who many believe discovered the site: Robert Koldewey. However, some historians refute his claims that he unearthed the Hanging Gardens in the early 20th century. While excavating an area in Babylon, Koldewey made many important discoveries. He is credited with finding a basement area believed to have been part of the Hanging Gardens that consisted of four, oversized rooms that were composed with stone arched ceilings. Koldewey continued working in the area and made many significant discoveries. While many of his discoveries seemed to corroborate written Greek texts by the historian Diodorus, not everyone was convinced the Hanging Gardens of Babylon had been unearthed.

Some modern day archaeologists suggest that the discovery was not the foundation for the Hanging Gardens but rather a building that was possibly used for storage or even administrative functions. One reason some doubt Koldewey’s discovery is due to the Hanging Garden’s location. According to texts, the Gardens were situated near the river and many experts theorized that Koldewey’s discovery was too far from the water. Additionally, cuneiform tablets have been recovered from the area giving credence to the suggestion that the site was used for administration purposes and not a lush, exotic garden. Whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon existed, and if so, their exact location remains a mystery.