The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are considered one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. Its location is described as being about 50 miles south of Baghdad in present day Al Hillah, Babil, Iraq. Constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, who ruled Babylon in 605 BC, the gardens were meant to please his home sick wife, Amytis of Media. Amytis missed the beautiful scenery of her home: the mountainous, lush landscape of Persia. The Hanging Gardens were an engineering marvel. It is still a mystery how fresh water flowed from the Euphrates River uphill to this lush oasis sitting in the middle of the dry desert.
Descriptions of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Specifications for the size of the Hanging Gardens differ among the sources. Herodotus claimed the outer walls of Babylon were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Greek historian, Diodorus, states that the Garden was 100 feet (30 m) long by 100 feet wide. He also said the builders created the gardens in tiers like a theater. Other historians came up with different, yet still very impressive dimensions to this garden.
How the Hanging Gardens of Babylon received the much needed water from the Euphrates is still in question. Some scholars believe a form of the Archimedes Screw pushed the water up to the foliage. However, other researchers believe there was a chain attached to two wheels that hoisted buckets to scoop up the water. The system transported the water uphill in a trolley-like fashion. Since the Hanging Gardens displayed above the landscape, stone slabs kept the soil from eroding away. These stones were a scarce item in Babylon and mostly unheard of to the common citizen of the area. The name “Hanging Gardens” may also be incorrect, since it is a mistranslation from Greek literature. The most likely meaning is “overhanging”.
Did the Gardens Really Exist?
The true mystery of the Hanging Gardens is whether this ancient wonder ever actually existed. Surely, the local residents would have had records of something this impressive. There are none. Herodotus, a historian in 450 BC, wrote extensively on the beauty of Babylon but did not mention the Hanging Gardens at all. In fact, all of the historical records of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon come from Greek historians such as Strabo and Diodorus. The problem is, they never visited the place. There is absolutely no mention of the Gardens in any Babylonian record of that time.
Even the credit of who supposedly built the Gardens is in question. Most accounts give this credit to Nebuchadnezzar. Recent scholars, however, propose that it was under the direction of Sennacherib, who reigned over Assyria from 705 BC to 681 BC.
A likely scenario stems from the invading armies of Alexander the Great, whose soldiers returned back to their homeland praising the beauty and splendor of Mesopotamia and the architectural beauty of the Tower of Babel. As with most accounts that get passed from person to person, embellishment may have occurred that also introduced these Hanging Gardens.
If the Hanging Gardens of Babylon truly existed, it has most likely eroded away in the ever-shifting sands of the desert. As such, we may never have any evidence of its existence, and if we are believe that it was real, we must do so on faith.
Article updated by HM editorial staff: February 2, 2017