The Mysterious Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have intrigued historians for centuries. The gardens are said to have been the most glorious in the ancient city of Babylon, located where the present-day city of Hillah, Iraq now stands. Historians dispute that these gardens even existed, or were in Babylon, with some evidence indicating the gardens were built in Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire, located where Mosul now stands in Northern Iraq. 

The King and a Homesick Wife

Babylon was settled in the 3rd millennium BC. King Nebuchadnezzar II ruled Babylon when it served as the capital of the region. The legend goes that the King wanted his capital to be the most splendid in the world, and built the Ishtar Gate, adorned with lions, dragons, and bulls, as the eighth gate surrounding the city, with remnants of the gate found in museums in Europe and the USA.

If the tales are true, the King was responsible for building the Hanging Gardens as a gift to his wife, Amytis, who was homesick for her home in Media (now the northwestern part of Iran). The King and his talented engineers are believed to have created a system of pumps, waterwheels, and cisterns to deliver water from the Euphrates to keep the gardens green and lush.

Whether the gardens were in Babylon or in Nineveh, just the name “the Hanging Gardens of Babylon” conjures pleasurable images. It is believed that these gardens, rather than being “hanging” in the English sense of the word, were raised on arched terraces to create a hill of green to mimic the lush green hills of the queen’s home. Imagine living in a flat, dry, sandy region and coming upon a green hill covered with greenery, herbs, flowers, and trees, with water flowing from above – a true feat of early engineering.

It is said that Alexander the Great saw the gardens, but like many legends, the historical record is sketchy at best. Two Greek historians, Strabo and Diodorus Siculus claimed to have seen the gardens, and described them:

“The approach to the garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier.” (Diodorus Siculus)

“The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra (30 meters) in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations…” (Strabo)

Gardens Built for Beauty and Pleasure

Pleasure gardens have been built, often for royalty, since recorded history. Scores of servants and slaves maintained these royal gardens. Gardens were created for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and the Persian gardens in Iran are believed to have been first created as far back as 4000 BC. 

No matter the period of history, gardens are an important part of the human experience. In ancient Egypt, trees were planted to create sacred groves near royal tombs, and near urban homes to provide shade, and provide nuts, dates, and fruit to nourish the community. Some Assyrian Kings demanded fruit trees as a tax from the people in the regions they conquered, creating gardens and orchards with fruit from other lands.

Creating a garden is an ancient tradition that will never fade. Caring for trees, plants, and flowers is a soothing and rewarding activity that has restored the human soul since time began.

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