Searching for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The real location of the elusive Hanging Gardens of Babylon has eluded researchers for centuries. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World whose location is still unknown, yet despite a plethora of studies claiming to know the answer, there is still no consensus among historians and experts as to where this ancient wonder once stood. Nevertheless, research conducted by an Oxford University academic claimed to finally hold the answer.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The most commonly held belief in scientific circles is that the ancient city and hanging gardens of Babylon was constructed by the Babylonians under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605 and 562 BC. He is reported to have constructed the gardens to please his homesick wife Amytis of Media, who longed for the plants of her homeland.
Legends say Queen Amytis was depressed by the dry, sunbaked terrain she was surrounded by, yearning for the lush, green and mountainous beauty of her homeland. Her husband found a solution in giving her a manmade mountain and elaborate rooftop gardens.
Nebuchadnezzar Ordering the Construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to Please his Consort Amyitis (Nebuchadnezzar and Sémiramis) (1676) by René-Antoine Houasse. (Public domain)
Most scholars agree that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon didn’t actually “hang” in the air. It seems more likely that there was a mistranslation sometime in the past of the Greek word kremastos, or the Latin word pensilis, which were used to describe the gardens. As such, the term could actually be referring to the word “overhang” – as in over a balcony or a terrace, such as the terraces found in a Mesopotamian ziggurat.
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Supporting this belief is the description of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon written by Greek geographer Strabo in the 1st century BC:
“It consists of vaulted terraces raised one above another, and resting upon cube-shaped pillars. These are hollow and filled with earth to allow trees of the largest size to be planted. The pillars, the vaults, and terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt. The ascent to the highest story is by stairs, and at their side are water engines, by means of which persons, appointed expressly for the purpose, are continually employed in raising water from the Euphrates into the garden.”
Representational image of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (Biplob / Adobe Stock)
They would have been an amazing sight to behold, but unfortunately the Hanging Gardens of Babylon did not survive the ages. There are some reports suggesting they were destroyed in the 2nd century BC by either neglect, war or an earthquake.
Their destruction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon has also contributed to scholarly confusion as to their precise whereabouts. Many doubt whether they ever existed at all. Numerous Classical writers have described these awe-inspiring gardens, mentioning that they were constructed on vaulted terraces adjacent to a palace. However, they offer limited details about their actual location, leaving modern researchers with a significant historical mystery to unravel.
Assyrian wall relief from the British Museum showing garden in the ancient city of Nineveh. Was this the real Hanging Gardens of ‘Babylon’? (Public domain)
Dr. Dalley's Quest for the True Location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Dr. Stephanie Dalley, from Oxford University’s Oriental Institute, spent over two decades piecing together clues from ancient texts and decoding cuneiform, before coming to the conclusion that she had come up with the true location of the Hanging Gardens. She even wrote a book about it; The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon in 2013. According to Dalley, the gardens were not built by the Babylonians at all, but by their neighbors and arch-enemies the Assyrians, under their monarch Sennacherib.
Dalley is one of only a handful of people in the world who can read cuneiform text. One of the primary clues that led her to her theory was a prism at the British Museum with cuneiform text describing the life of Sennacherib, who ruled over an empire stretching from southern Turkey to modern day Israel. Known as Sennacherib's Prism, the text describes—amongst other things—a palace and garden that he built that was a “wonder for all people.”
Further support for the theory comes from a bas-relief, removed from Nineveh in northern Iraq and brought to the British Museum, showing Sennacherib’s palace complex and a garden featuring trees hanging in the air on terraces and plants suspended on arches.
The hexagonal clay prism, known as Sennacherib's Prism, provided Stephanie Dalley with valuable historical information related to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. (British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
The Hanging Gardens of New Babylon?
Dalley argued that the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, were located near the city of Nineveh and were built in a series of terraces, built up like an amphitheater, with a lake at the bottom.
Because Nineveh is so far from Babylon, evidence pointing to this region as the real location of the gardens has previously been overlooked. However, Dr. Dalley found that when the Assyrians conquered Babylon, their capital became known as New Babylon, possibly accounting for the confusion.
Unfortunately, the high level of religious and ethnic violence currently plaguing the region around Nineveh means that Dalley has not been able to go there to find the proof she needs to confirm her theory.
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She nevertheless directed a local film crew to go there and survey a specific area on her behalf. Their footage shows a huge mound of dirt and rubble, which slopes down to an area of greenery. Dalley is desperately trying to find a way to excavate the site, but she believes that the violence in the region may make it impossible.
According to Dalley, “more research is required at the site, but sadly I don’t think that will be possible in my lifetime.” However, she added that her conviction that the gardens were in Nineveh “remains unshaken.” Meanwhile, the search for archaeological evidence continues.
Top image: Representational image of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Source: Creative Digital Art / Adobe Stock