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The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Reina Z, Elisa L, Andrea G

Ancient History Report On: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were the most revered and awesome structures in all of history. Philo of Byzantium compiled the first list of Seven Wonders for travelers of the Hellenistic Era, which included only unique man-made structures, such as the Pyramids at Giza or sculptures like the Colossus of Rhodes . One Wonder that evokes a great deal of interest is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Philo highlighted the various qualities that made the gardens worthy of incorporation onto the list of Wonders in the 3rd century B.C. These gardens portrayed the majesty of the Babylonian culture and the advanced technology of its people. It was a terraced garden that exhibited many beautiful plants and held many fountains. Nebuchadnezzar II ordered this wonder to be built during his reign of 43 years between the years of 604-562 BC. He built it to please his homesick wife, Amyitis, who was from Media. She longed for the meadows and mountains of her homeland. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon awed and astounded many travelers and historians in ancient times. Although they no longer exist, the idea of such a magnificent feat of engineering still fascinates people today.

Nebuchadnezzar, the builder of the gardens, was the most important ruler of his dynasty. He was the son of Nabopolassar, and lived from 604-562 B.C. As a military commander, he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, conquering many Cities. He marched through Palestine and besieged Jerusalem twice. Nebuchadnezzar was also one of the most renowned builders in the Near East, making Babylon the most beautiful city in the region. Around his city, he built walls, which formed a square. The walls measured 9 miles long. Beyond the wall was a deep moat, which kept the city safe from invasion. Herodotus states that the wall was 80 feet thick, 320 feet high, with 250 watchtowers, and 100 bronze gates. Nebuchadnezzar also built the Ishtar Gate. It was a double gate at the south end of the processional way, which was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. It was covered with brilliant blue glazed bricks and bas-relief animal sculptures. When visitors came upon this gate they would be in awe. In addition to the Ishtar gate Nebuchadnezzar built a majestic palace for himself. Travelers marveled at the walls decorated with colorful friezes of blue and yellow enameled bricks. Nebuchadnezzar paved the street sidewalks with small red stone slabs. Along the edge of each stone were carved, "I am Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who made this," demonstrating Nebuchadnezzar's absolute power and influence over Babylon . Nebuchadnezzar used these works as a means of self-promotion and self-glorification, not unlike other kings of that time. “Although Nebuchadnezzar suffered from insanity at some point during his 43-year reign, he transformed his city into an urban wonder”, states Herodotus . Nebuchadnezzar died a world conqueror and an architectural role model.

Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens, breaking natural law by creating a botanical wonder, an "impulse deriving from the love of a woman" . He wished to please his homesick Median wife Amyitis, whom he had married to make an alliance between Media and Babylonia. She was raised in a green and mountainous land. Amyitis found Mesopotamia depressing, as it is a flat and sun-baked environment. Nebuchadnezzar, with hope of making her happier, decided to build a “recreated homeland” which was an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens. What made it special was that it was a man-made paradise, and it “defied nature.” In a barren region, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded where nature had failed. The gardens were made to look like a natural Median wilderness. Nebuchadnezzar had man made hills covered with many different types of trees, which satisfied his wife's passion for mountainous surroundings. The gardens were sloped down like a hillside, and were also terraced into different flowerbeds. The beautiful landscape of the Hanging Gardens helped make it a special structure, and transformed the desert-like environment into a pastoral countryside.

The gardens had exotic flourishing plants. These plants were cultivated above ground level. Nebuchadnezzar imported the plants from foreign lands. The plants may have included “cedar, cypress, myrtle, juniper, almond, date palm, ebony, olive, oak, terebinth, nuts, ash, firs, nightshade, willow, pomegranate, plum, pear, quince, fig, and grapevine.” The plants were suspended over the heads of observers on terraces, they draped over the terraced walls. Arches were underneath these terraces. The brilliantly colored trees and flowers that dangled from the walls created a lush and magical environment.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an impressive example of architecture. The gardens formed a quadrilateral shape. There were stairways that led to the uppermost terraced roofs. The plants hung over terraces that were supported by stone columns. There were arched vaults, which were located on cubed fountains. The fountains created a humidity that helped keep the area cool. The shade from the trees also helped keep the gardens cool. The garden ascended in closely planted levels to form a man-made replica of mountain greenery. The gardens were supported by an intricate structure of stone pillars, brick walls, and palm tree trunk beams. These trunks were made watertight. “Palm beams were laid over with mats of reed and bitumen as well as two layers of baked mud brick.” All of this was covered in a layer of lead. There were fourteen vaulted rooms and underground crypts. The entire structure measured 400 feet by 400 feet. The gardens were as tall as the city walls, which Herodotus reported to be 320 feet high. Conflicting sources report that the walls were 80 feet high, a less remarkable, but still majestic height. The architecture of the Hanging Gardens demonstrates the majesty of Babylonian structural design under Nebuchadnezzar's rule.

The gardens were as much of a technological feat as they were an architectural triumph. The technique of hydro engineering demonstrated their knowledge of irrigation. Since Babylon rarely received rain, the gardens had to be irrigated. Streams of water emerged from elevated sources and flowed down the inclined channels. This kept the whole area moist and thus the grass was always green. Historians have questioned whether the Hanging Gardens used hydroponics as a way of growing plants. Hydroponics means that nutrients are added to the water swirling around the plants roots. No soil is used in a hydroponic system. Excavations have found an elaborate tunnel and pulley system that brought ground water to the top terrace. The water was dispersed by means of a chain pump. A chain pump consists of two large wheels, like a ski lift, with one wheel at the top and one at the bottom. Buckets hanging from the chain were continuously dipped into the reservoir at the base of the gardens. By turning handles slaves provided the power to turn the wheels. The source of the gardens' water was from the Euphrates River. The water from the pool at the top of the gardens could be released from gates into channels. The channels acted as artificial streams, designed to water the garden. This chain pump showed the technological ingenuity of Babylonia and helped sustain the Hanging Gardens.

Ultimately, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon lasted through the time of Alexander the Great. This great masterpiece, with its keen architectural style, cleverness in hydro engineering, lush, flourishing plants and well-constructed landscape belongs on the list of the Wonders of the World. Nebuchadnezzar was great in many ways surpassing all other rulers of his dynasty. The elegance of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon demonstrate his leadership a strong esthetic sense and great architectural and engineering foresight. Even if Amyitis never resolved her homesickness, Nebuchadnezzar and the people of the ancient world who experienced the gardens all benefited by her depressed nature.


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-©2001, Andrea G, Elisa L, and Reina Z

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