The Hanging Gardens of Babylon – Wonder 2/7 (ca. 600 BC)

By: The Scribe on Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The second wonder of the ancient world, in chronological order, is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Believed to have been built around 600 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II, there is actually little to no archaeological evidence for the existence of these gardens – instead, knowledge of the gardens comes from Greek historians such as Strabo and Diodorus Siculus.

These Greek historians lived several hundred years after the gardens were supposedly built, and it is quite odd that there are no Babylonian records that mention the gardens – however, there are tablets from Nineveh that describe gardens at that city, and so it is possible that ancient Greek travelers merely had their information a little jumbled when they returned home to recount tales of their travels!

The commonly understood story of the gardens is that Nebuchadnezzar II constructed them for his wife, a Mede, who was homesick for the lush trees and flowers of her homeland. The garden supposedly had a wide variety fruits and plants from across the ancient world, waterfalls, exotic animals, and other plants drooping from the palace terraces, to give the garden its appearance of ‘hanging’.

The major problem with the gardens’ existence is simple enough to conceive of: how were the gardens watered? How could enough water for entire terraces of plants possibly be transported to the roofs of buildings and palaces in order to keep the plant life thriving? And how is it possible that the water’s run-off wouldn’t cause the entire palace to weaken and collapse from water damage?

Diodorus Siculus attempted to explain the watering issue in his writings:

“the approach to the Garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier… on all this, the earth had been piled… and was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size and other charm, gave pleasure to the beholder… The water machines [raised] the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it.”

Conveniently concealed water-transportation mechanisms? The Babylonians were spectacular engineers, and thus it is a plausible suggestion. Presumably, some sort of complementary drainage system would have been implemented as well, possibly making use of terracotta pipes on each terrace level so that the roofs would not weaken and collapse.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Temple of Artemis


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