History of Hanging Garden

History of Hanging Garden:

Despite being perhaps the best known of the original Seven Wonders of the World after the Great Pyramid of Giza, there’s some uncertainty as to whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually even existed.

Their lush, exotic beauty is described with flowing prose by eminent Greek historians, yet none of them is known to have witnessed the gardens in person – not even Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of Great Wonders. More importantly, Babylonian sources make no reference to the Hanging Gardens whatsoever, even though tablets do survive describing the city, its palace and its walls in detail. Could it be that this legendary floral and faunal masterpiece was in fact wholly fictional?

Planting the Gardens:

Like many a powerful figure in ancient history, King Nebuchadnezzar II – who ruled the city-state of Babylon on the Euphrates River, near present-day Al Hillah, Babil in Iraq, from 605 to 562 BC – is said to have acted in a bid to please his better half when he ordered the creation of the Hanging Gardens.

His wife, Amytis of Media, hailed from the fragrant, leafy, mountainous lands of northwest Persia. She apparently pined terribly for her homeland, and fell sick in the intense heat and dust of the barren Mesopotamian desert. So, around 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar sought to cheer her up with the creation of a backyard unlike any the world had ever seen.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon reputedly reached as high as 25 meters into the air, and were planted on a huge stepped brick terrace supported by columns. Exotic flowers, animals and plants were said to have been shipped in from all over the surrounding area to fill them. They were kept alive by an irrigation system using water pumped up from the Euphrates by slaves. The “hanging” part of the name seemingly made reference to the fact that it was possible to walk under the terraces, with the greenery draped above.

Legends of Babylon:

The most colourful descriptions of the Hanging Gardens can be found in the writings of two famous Greek historians. Strabo, in his 17-volume encyclopedia of geographical knowledge Geographica, published 24 AD, wrote:

“The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations. The checkered foundations, which are hollowed out, are covered so deep with earth that they admit of the largest of trees, having been constructed of baked brick and asphalt.... The ascent to the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway; and alongside these stairs there were screws, through which the water was continually conducted up into the garden from the Euphrates by those appointed for this purpose.”

In Bibliotheca Historica, written during the 1st century BC, Diodorus said the gardens were:

“…100 feet (30 m) long by 100 feet (30 m) wide and built up in tiers so that it resembled a theatre. Vaults had been constructed under the ascending terraces which carried the entire weight of the planted garden; the uppermost vault… was the highest part of the garden, which, at this point, was on the same level as the city walls. The roofs of the vaults which supported the garden were constructed of stone beams some sixteen feet long.... On top of this roof enough topsoil was heaped to allow the biggest trees to take root. The earth was levelled off and thickly planted with every kind of tree.”

Chinese Whispers?
As already mentioned, historians such as Strabo and Diodorus were not writing from first hand knowledge of the Hanging Gardens (they couldn’t have been, since the gardens were apparently destroyed by a massive earthquake sometime after the 2nd century BC). The Greek scholars were probably elaborating on the ancient descriptions of Babylon by Berossus, a Chaldean priest who lived in the late 4th century BC, as well as the accounts of soldiers returning from the region.
Likely these soldiers weren’t lying, rather they were just passing on exaggerated versions of what they had seen or heard of Babylon. The luxurious appearance of a simple greenery covered Ziggurat in the city may have been enough to spark the chain of Chinese whispers that resulted in the Hanging Gardens becoming historical legend.

Or perhaps they did exist in the region, but just not at Babylon. There is reasonable evidence, in the form of cuneiform tablets, to suggest that spectacular gardens were planted sometime between 705 and 681 BC in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, south of Nineveh on the river Tigris, at the order of Sennacherib, an arch adversary of the Babylonians. The writings on these gardens describe the possible use of something similar to an Archimedes screw in the irrigation system. Could it be that these gardens became confused with – and eventually attributed to – Babylon?

The Proof?
Archaeological evidence is sketchy when it comes to assessing whether or not there is any truth to the legend of the Hanging Gardens. Much work has been carried out at the extensive ruins of Babylon; the best proof of the gardens yet was found in 1899 by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey, who located the foundations of a vaulted building that had an irrigation well nearby. Archaeologists have since reconstructed the building as the gardens, yet historical accounts put them nearer to the Euphrates. We’ll likely never know for sure if this lush green Wonder of the ancient World ever really existed.


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