How far would you go to please your homesick wife?
Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II is believed to have constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It’s one of the greatest architectural wonders of the ancient world.
The Babylonian King built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the 6th century B.C. as a gift to his wife, Amytis. Beautiful vegetation and mountainous scenery of her native home, Media, made her homesick. Thus, a mesmerizing and elaborate garden was built to replicate her verdant and lush homeland and please her.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is one of the most jaw-dropping, eye-popping engineering feats from ancient times. But, no ancient wonders are shrouded in much mystery as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are.
You may find the ruins or historical accounts for the Statue of Zeus, Temple of Artemis, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Tomb of Mausolus, the Colossus of Rhodes. You can still visit the Pyramids of Giza. But, the case of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is different and mysterious.
In this article, I tried to disclose the mystery that’s been cloaking the Gardens for thousands of years.
Article at a Glance
- Quick Facts on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Really Exist?
- Accounts of Diodorus Siculus
- How Was the Hanging Garden of Babylon Constructed?
- Why Are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Referred to as “Hanging”?
- The Irrigation Issue
Let’s cover each of these topics in depth:
Quick Facts on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Location: City State of Babylon (Modern-Day Iraq)
- Constructed: Around 600 BC
- Why Was the Structure Built: the King Nebuchadnezzar built it for his wife
- Construction Material: Mud brick, waterproofed with lead
- Dispute: Some archaeologists dispute the location of the gardens and suggest that the structure wasn’t located in Babylon, but in the City of Nineveh
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is considered one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The gardens are thought to be built near the royal palace in Babylon. Innumerable theories are still published as to the gardens’ structure and location.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are a remarkable feat of engineering. The gardens featured an ascending series of tiers containing all manner of trees, shrubs, vines and greenery at each level.
Lined with colonnades, the gardens were said to evoke a picture of a large green mountain made of mud bricks.
Did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Really Exist?
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is no longer standing today. Since there are no ruins of the gardens or signs to prove that they once existed in Babylon, many doubt there were such gardens. We know extremely little about Babylonian history due to the lack of documentation. Many historians believe the existence of such gardens has merely been a figment of ancient imaginations.
All the rest of the wonders of the ancient world are accounted for. Archaeological and historical documentations suggest their existence. Moreover, ruins of such structures can also be found. However, that’s not the same with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
So, it’s all just a fantasy and a figment of imagination?
Just as in modern times, we like to log things, capture things we enjoyed seeing new things, many Greek and Roman travelers of ancient times documented their favorite sights. They recommended exclusive sights in each country to others to view. Some of these ‘wonder-lists’ still exist today. One of the must-see places they used to recommend was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Like all other wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built thousands of years ago.
Diodorus of Sicily gives us the most specific description of the Hanging Gardens. He was active between 60 B.C and 30 B.C. He wrote of a garden that was about 400-foot long on each side and described that it sloped like a hillside. He noted that several parts of the structure were rising from one another, tier on tier. The whole structure appeared to him like a theater.
He detailed that the highest tier stood 20 meters high and the walls had the 22-foot thickness, with walkways stretching 10 feet. Diodorus mentioned “brick bonded with cement” as the structure of the gardens.
Diodorus described that the gardens were topped with bitumen (an ancient form of asphalt). To prevent the soil moisture from penetrating underneath, a layer of lead was applied. The layer was piled with soil and trees of every kind were thickly planted.
Diodorus mentioned that trees’ size and lush vegetation would give immense pleasure to the beholder.
What is remarkably an offset to the well-established theory is that Diodorus believed that a Syrian king built the Hanging Gardens, not the Babylonian king.
A Roman writer, named Quintus Curtius Rufus, described a similar structure in the 1st century, which further gives credence to the gardens’ onetime existence.
How Was the Hanging Garden of Babylon Constructed?
The construction of the garden was extremely difficult. It was not only difficult getting the water up to the top, but also complicated since you would have to prevent the water from ruining the foundations once released.
Mesopotamian plain didn’t favor stone structure, therefore most of the architecture was made of brick. Clay used to be mixed with chopped straw, then baked in the sun to produce the bricks.
A slimy substance called bitumen was used as a mortar. Since training in Babylon was so rain, people didn’t have fear of having their structures dissolved in water.
You may ask since the gardens needed constant irrigation, how was the foundation protected?
Diodorus, the Greek historian, informs us once again. He described a platform which was made of huge slabs of stone, while layers of asphalt, Reed, and tiles covering the platform. And, such platform laid the gardens’ foundation.
Diodorus further explained that the platform was further covered with sheets of lead. All this is done to prevent the liquid from rotting the foundation. Earth of an expedient depth, suitable for growth of different types of stress was laid on the platform.
When the soil was made even and smooth, all sorts of trees were planted on it.
Why Are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Referred to as “Hanging”?
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon didn’t really hang in the air, suspended by ropes or cables as the name seems to suggest. Actually a flawed translation of the Greek word “remasters“, or the Latin word “pencil“. Either of these words not only suggests “hanging”, but “overhanging”. The word is used in the sense of referring to a balcony or terrace.
The Irrigation Issue
Babylon used to receive a very little amount of rain. So, for the Hanging Gardens to survive, irrigation from the nearby Euphrates River was required. To water the plants at each level, you would need to transfer the water from the air, so that water could flow down through the terraces.
The was nearly an impossible task, given the lack of modern pressure pumps and engines. Water engineers suggest that Babylonian designers may have used a “chain pump” to move the water.
A chain pump is made using two large wheels, connected by a chain and positioned one above the other. Buckets are hung on the chain. A pool with the water source is positioned below the bottom wheel. As laborers turn the wheel, the buckets used to dip into the pool and pick up water. The chain lifts the buckets to the upper wheel for water to be released into an upper pool. It also carries the empty buckets down for the refill.
Many experts also suggested that water may have been carried to the top by a screw pump.
The City of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar II must have a wonder to behold to the ancients. The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that the Babylon had such beauty that it surpassed all known cities across the world. And, among all other attractions, the structure that signified the pinnacle of greatness was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. In this article, I tried unmasking the structure and explaining its greatness.