Nov 7, 2019 in Informative

The Mystery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Although the Hanging Gardens is usually referred to as a proper noun, it has been long ago since it became a common noun denoting a complex construction of gardens planted on terraces of the ziggurats resembling those mythical gardens of ancient Babylon. The Hanging Gardens are associated with the seven wonders of the ancient world, which represent genuine works of art and architecture. However, unlike the other six wonders, especially the Great Pyramids which still exist in Giza, Egypt, the story and the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is the most mysterious and controversial one.  

The article on About.com, “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon”, by Jen Rosenberg discusses the history and the existence of the Hanging Gardens. According to the legend, the Hanging Gardens were built in the city of Babylon by King Nebuchadrezzar II during his rule in the 6th century BCE. He dedicated the construction of the gardens to his wife Amytis who missed her home atmosphere and climate of Persia. Ancient Babylon was mainly built of mud-dried bricks because of the prevalence and availability of the materials, and that explains why the city was so easy to ruin and was reconstructed repeatedly so many times. Nebuchadrezzar was the one who wanted to expand his empire (he won a lot of wars and married a Persian princess) and enhance Babylon. According to the annals, during his reign, the big and wide (80 feet thick) wall was built around the city, which was completed with the famous Ishtar Gate, and the Hanging Gardens were built to please the queen.

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We know about the Hanging Gardens mostly from the Greek and Roman texts. They describe beauty of the construction speaking about the jewel of Babylon. However, all of these texts are supposed to have been written after the destruction of the gardens and look more like a myth. The numerous archaeological excavations never proved the existence of any remains at the supposed location of the Hanging Gardens, which is near the Euphrates River at the south of today’s Baghdad in Iraq. According to the studies of Dr. Stephanie Dalley from Oxford University, it is more possible that the Hanging Gardens were situated 340 miles to the north of Babylon, in the city of Ninevah (today near the city of Mosul on the Tigris river, Iraq) and built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. 

Dr. Dalley claims that the confusion of these two places could happen because of the wrong translation. Ninevah was once known as New Babylon, which could lead to misinterpretation. Dr. Dalley, a specialist in ancient Middle Eastern languages, studied the cuneiform texts for 18 years in order to confirm her theory. She retranslated the ancient scripts that were previously translated in 1920-s and confirmed that there was a lot of important information missing. A lot of descriptions of something that could be likely taken for the Hanging Gardens can be found in the new translations. In addition, according to the texts, Sennacherib built the gardens a century earlier than it was supposed. He made the city of Ninevah the capital of his empire and built a system of waterworks in and around it. The latest excavations near Ninevah showed the traces of aqueducts that could be a part of a complex system of water supply to the Hanging Gardens. Dalley represented her whole research in her book The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. 

Some scientists do not agree with Dalley’s theory. For example, Professor McGuire Gibson from University of Chicago's Oriental Institute claims that the lack of evidence does not prove that the gardens were situated out of Babylon. He states there was a place in Babylon right on the river, where the gardens could be built. He also believes that Babylonian technologies allowed raising water to the gardens. Anyway, the theory on the new location of the Hanging Gardens can be confirmed only with the new excavations, which is impossible because the place is quite dangerous right now.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are remarkable for their construction. If this is a myth or not, the description of the gardens gives a view of an ingenious work of ancient engineers and artists. It is not surprising that the gardens got to the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In the ancient texts the Hanging Gardens were described as a massive building about 75 feet high made of stone having multiple terraces – storeys of the ziggurat covered with exotic plants and trees. The plants grew around and on the top of the building, so that the whole composition should have resembled a mountain landscape, as it was supposed to remind the Persian princess about her home according to legend. To keep the numerous plants alive there must have been a strong, well thought-up system of water supply, which is the biggest mystery of the Hanging Gardens. It is believed that there was kind of an engine, or a pump, or a system of numerous pumps, cisterns and waterwheels that raised the water up the building and then through the special system of canals it came from the top of the building down through all the terraces. After decades of excavations and studies, the scientists were amazed by the well-designed and well-planned schemes of water supply in ancient Mesopotamian cities. There were found the traces of canals, weir, dam, and aqueducts. The highly developed technologies could prove the possibility of building something monumental like the Hanging Gardens. There are detailed descriptions of the installation of the water supply systems, their use and management in the ancient scripts, some of the processes are depicted on the images and in sculptures. Thus, the Hanging Gardens represent the exceptional achievements of the Assyrian engineering skills.       

It is difficult to hold to one or another point of view about the existence of the Hanging Gardens, but after this research, I would prefer to believe that the Hanging Gardens existed, and they were situated not in the ancient city of Babylon, but in Ninevah, the so-called New Babylon. First, there are too many vivid detailed descriptions of the gardens. Even if these descriptions come second-handed from the Greek and Roman texts, they are too detailed to be a myth. Second, thanks to the Assyrian technologies and engineering achievements, there is a great possibility that the gardens could have existed. In addition, the favorable location of Ninevah induces me to Dalley’s theory. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a unique creation of artistic and engineering work. It was a complex construction worth admiring. We still recollect the gardens when we turn to the origin of pump.  Although, it is still a question if the story of the Hanging Gardens is a myth or truth, the only way to prove their existence is to do more archeological research and excavations. Unfortunately, because of the tense situation in Iraq, it is now impossible to make any research at the supposed location of the Hanging Gardens. 

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