7 Wonders of the World: Myths and truths of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the seven wonders of the world. If we could see it in its glory today, it would be no surprise how it made it on this iconic list. There’s been a lot of debate on where these gardens existed and even if they existed at all. Read on to learn more about the Gardens of Babylon and what made the city one of the wealthiest in the ancient world.
The ancient city of Babylon
The city of Babylon was considered on the largest and wealthiest cities in the ancient world. The height of its glory was in the 6th and 7th centuries B.C.E. The city was ruled by the ambitious and ruthless King Nebuchadnezzar II. The location is believed to be in modern-day Iraq. The city was believed to be the size of Chicago in scale. The ancient city was home to ornately tiled architecture, towering temples, palaces and imposing city walls. The city walls were thought to be wide enough for two chariots to pass by each other side by side.
The reign of this ancient city was short-lived. According to the Old Testament, the city fell to the Persians in 539 B.C.E. Over centuries of invasions and foreign occupations the city slowly began to crumble. Today, there isn’t much left to see of this once impressive empire. In 2019, Babylon was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This once powerful empire ruled the region and most famously enslaved the biblical Kingdom of Judah. Babylon is currently located about 55-miles south of Baghdad.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Babylon was also home to one of the seven wonders of the world known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to legend, the gardens hosted the sky-scraping temple that was thought to inspire the biblical Tower of Babel. The gardens were believed to host beautiful lush vegetation that towered over the desert floor as high as 75 feet. There were exotic flowers and sweet aromas filling the streets. The gardens were believed to be built by King Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century. According to legend, the king’s wife missed her home in Media. To ease her pain and homesickness, King Nebuchadnezzar built the gardens as a gift to his wife, Amytis.
The gardens were constructed using a series of waterways. The waterways provided an irrigation system and the nearby river was raised so that the gardens could cascade downwards. Because of the engineering needed to do this, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were named as one of the seven wonders of the world. Although the Babylonians didn’t write about these gardens in their ancient texts, Greek historians described it and spoke about its beauty and construction. The irrigation system that was described wouldn’t see use in other parts of the world for centuries after it was originally constructed here.
The vegetation depicted by the Ancient Greeks were beautiful, lush, hanging plants that towered over the dessert. There were thousands of beautifully trimmed shrubs, flowering trees, and vines that stretched down to the ground from 75 feet above the desert sand. You could smell the aroma of the flowers for miles away. The irrigation system needed to fuel this 2,500-year-old garden would truly be an engineering marvel. Especially in the harsh desert heat without a modern-day water system. You have to remember, there was no turning on your sprinkler or grabbing your garden hose in the 6th century.
What history may have gotten wrong
Some historians believe that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have not existed at all. Others believe that they may have actually been located around 300 miles from Babylon in Nineveh near Mosul and that they were actually built by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. The gardens were never mentioned in ancient Babylonian texts and the gardens weren’t mentioned until long after the builder, King Nebuchadnezzar had passed away. Most of the descriptions of the gardens were passed on through second-hand accounts and there is no physical evidence of the garden’s existence. Researchers believe we may have just originally gotten the location and the kings who built them confused.
Excavations near Mosul unearthed a huge bronze screw that was like the ones described to move water from the river to the gardens. There was also an inscription on the screw that said the screw delivered water to the ancient city. Carvings near the site also depict lush gardens that were supplied with water by an aqueduct. Mosul was far more likely to get it’s water from an aqueduct because the terrain was very hilly. The area of Babylon is a flatland. Historians also believe that Assyrians conquered Babylon in 689 B.C.E. which was before the construction of the gardens. This led to the belief that the Ancient Greek historians could have gotten their locations wrong. Because of this, researchers and archeologists focused their excavation efforts in the 20th century in the city of Babylonia instead of Nineveh. When they came up with nothing, this caused the belief that maybe the ancient wonder never even exited in the first place.
What we know now
Many now believe that the more we unearth in Nineveh, the more likely it is that the gardens existed there. The site near Mosul where excavation is continuing is located on a hill which is much like the one described by Ancient Greeks. Since there is no first-hand account of what the hanging gardens actually looked like, we’re still waiting on the discovery of ancient texts to confirm it’s description.