The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are often included in the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world along with the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus. These gardens were written about by historians suggesting a romantic lush landscape filled with colorful flowers cascading down from the sky. The magnificence felt by looking at them must have been quite a sight. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are not standing today, and even their entire existence is debated, because of the lack of documentation about them in the chronicles of Babylonian history. Many scholars doubt that they were ever built and it is felt that they are just a legend.
The best description of these gardens comes from the historian Herodotus, who is often called the ‘father of history’, although some call him the ‘father of lies’. Herodotus wrote a book called History and in it he wanted to do more than just simply retell the events of the past, he wanted to prove a point and make sure the people of the future remembered and learned from the events of the past, so he embellished many of his stories. If there are some records still remaining about these hanging gardens, they would probably be in cuneiform on clay tablets, and since none of these tablets were ever found and also since there are not many people left in the world who can actually read cuneiform, no hard evidence exists. Thus it is thought that these gardens may have been merely a figment of ancient imaginations, a story to be told in the annals of ancient myth and history. It makes a good story, so let’s roll with it.
It is said that the Hanging Gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II who ruled Babylon from 605BC, for a period of 43 years. During this time the city of Babylon, must have been a wonder to the ancient traveler’s eyes. According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, Amyitis who was the daughter of the king of the Medes, and they were married to create an alliance between the two nations. Amyitis was homesick, she missed her fertile and mountainous home, she longed for the fragrance of its plants and flowers. Amyitis found living in the flat sun baked and arid terrain around the city of Babylon to be quite depressing. Medes the land where she came from, which is now in the western and north-western portion of present-day Iran was moist and wet, rugged and full of green mountains, almost a complete opposite of Babylon. The king decided to relieve her depression by recreating her homeland through the building of an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens. These elaborate gardens were constructed to replicate her lush homeland and make her happy again.
They are called the Hanging Gardens because the gardens were built high above the ground on multi-level stone terraces, so in actuality they were overhanging gardens. The plants weren’t rooted in the earth like a traditional garden, as they were made up of a simulated mountain with rooftop gardens. They were probably supported by baked brick columns that would have been filled with dirt to allow large plantings and trees to root and grow. The effect of the plants hanging down over the years likely gave the image of a lush mountain landscape, seemingly hanging in mid-air.
Babylon rarely received rain and for the garden to survive, it would have had to have been irrigated by using water from the nearby Euphrates River. If the gardens actually existed, it would have taken 8,200 gallons of water each day to keep the plants watered. The water would have had to have been carried up or transported to the top of the gardens by a primitive water irrigation system. The gardens were thought to be about 75 feet high and 400 feet square in area, that featured an elaborate irrigation system from the river to the gardens. That meant lifting the water high into the air, so it could flow down through the terraces, watering the plants at each level.
Historians speculated on the many different methods that could have been used for this ancient water delivery system. The southern palace of Nebuchadnezzar was constructed around five courtyards which included the king’s private quarter and the quarters for his harems. Within the palace was a throne room and in two rooms behind the throne room were two oblong and one central square well shafts that were all located close together. At the top of the shaft was a wheel with an endless chain of pottery buckets that brought water up an oblong shaft, and the buckets would descend down the opposite oblong well shaft. The central square shaft was an inspection shaft for cleaning and repairs. Animals or human slaves provided the power to move the water buckets up and down this brigade.
A chain pump consisting of two large wheels, one above the other, connected by a chain may have been used to irrigate the gardens. Buckets were hung on this chain. A pool with the water source was thought to be below the bottom wheel. As the wheel is turned, the buckets dip into the pool and pick up water. The chain then lifts them to the upper wheel, where the buckets are tipped and dumped into an upper pool. The chain then carries the empty buckets back down to be refilled. The pool at the top of the gardens could then be released by gates into channels which acted as artificial streams to water the gardens. The pump wheel stationed below was attached to a shaft and a handle. By turning the handle, slaves provided the power to run the contraption.
An alternate method of getting the water to the top of the gardens might have been a screw pump. This device looks like a trough with one end in the lower pool from which the water is taken with the other end overhanging an upper pool to which the water is being lifted. Fitting tightly into the trough is a long screw. As the screw is turned, water is caught between the blades of the screw and forced upwards. When it reaches the top, it falls into the upper pool. Turning the screw can be done by a hand crank. A different design of screw pump mounts the screw inside a tube, which takes the place of the trough. In this case the tube and screw turn together to carry the water upward.
These gardens must have been spectacular to behold. Is it possible that these Hanging Gardens of Babylon were actually built in Mosel and that they were recently destroyed by ISIS? Historians wrote about why they were built, how they were built, and their size and they even went as far as describing how the gardens were watered. If they are just a myth, then why did these historians spend so much time describing this masterpiece of ancient history?