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Babylon Hanging Gardens

Searching for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

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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.  However, research conducted in November, 2013 by an Oxford University academic claimed to finally hold the answer.

The Legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The most commonly held belief in scientific circles is that the ancient city and hanging gardens 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.  

‘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)

‘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 )

Legends say Queen Amytis was depressed by the dry, sun-baked terrain she was surrounded by and missed her green, mountainous homeland. Her husband found a solution in giving her a manmade mountain and elaborate rooftop gardens.

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, but could also mean ‘overhang’ – as in over a balcony or a terrace, such as the terraces found in a Mesopotamian ziggurat.

Supporting this belief is the description of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon written by Greek geographer Strabo in the 1st century BC. He wrote,

"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."

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, painting by Ferdinand Knab. (Public Domain)

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, painting by Ferdinand Knab. ( Public Domain )

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 and earthquake. Their destruction also lead to future confusion for scholars on the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and where they may have stood. Several Classical writers described the awesome gardens, but other than telling the reader that they were built on vaulted terraces by a palace, they do not provide many details on the gardens’ location.

Maybe Not the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

Dr. Stephanie Dalley, from Oxford University’s Oriental Institute, has spent the last two decades piecing together clues from ancient texts and decoding cuneiform text, and now believes she has come up with the true location of the Hanging Gardens. According to Dalley, the gardens were not built by the Babylonians at all, but by their neighbors and archenemies, the Assyrians, under their monarch Sennacherib.

Dalley is one of only a handful of people in the world who can read cuneiform text, and one of the 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.  The text describes 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.

Assyrian wall relief showing garden in the ancient city of Nineveh. (Public Domain) Was this the real Hanging Gardens of ‘Babylon’?

Assyrian wall relief showing garden in the ancient city of Nineveh. ( Public Domain ) Was this the real Hanging Gardens of ‘Babylon’?

The Hanging Gardens of New Babylon

Dalley believes that the famous hanging gardens 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 over the names.

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. However, she 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.

View of ancient Nineveh, Description de L'Universe (Alain Manesson Mallet, 1719). (Public Domain)

View of ancient Nineveh, Description de L'Universe (Alain Manesson Mallet, 1719). ( Public Domain )

“More research is required at the site, but sadly I don’t think that will be possible in my lifetime,” said Dalley. However, she added that her conviction that the gardens were in Nineveh “remains unshaken.”

Top Image: Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Source: Public Domain

By Joanna Gillan​

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