According to legend, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World, were built in the 6th century BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar II for his homesick wife, Amytis. As a Persian princess, Amytis missed the wooded mountains of her youth and thus Nebuchadnezzar built her an oasis in the desert, a building covered with exotic trees and plants, tiered so that it resembled a mountain. The only problem is that archaeologists are not sure that the Hanging Gardens ever really existed.
Nebuchadnezzar II and Babylon
The city of Babylon was founded around 2300 BCE, or even earlier, near the Euphrates River just south of the modern city of Baghdad in Iraq. Since it was located in the desert, it was built almost entirely out of mud-dried bricks. Since bricks are so easily broken, the city was destroyed a number of times in its history.
In the 7th century BCE, Babylonians revolted against their Assyrian ruler. In an attempt to make an example of them, Assyrian King Sennacherib razed the city of Babylon, completely destroying it. Eight years later, King Sennacherib was assassinated by his three sons. Interestingly, one of these sons ordered the reconstruction of Babylon.
It wasn't long before Babylon was once again flourishing and known as a center of learning and culture. It was Nebuchadnezzar's father, King Nabopolassar, that liberated Babylon from Assyrian rule. When Nebuchadnezzar II became king in 605 BCE, he was handed a healthy realm, but he wanted more.
Nebuchadnezzar wanted to expand his kingdom in order to make it one of the most powerful city-states of the time. He fought the Egyptians and the Assyrians and won. He also made an alliance with the king of Media by marrying his daughter.
With these conquests came the spoils of war to which Nebuchadnezzar, during the course of his 43-year reign, used to enhance the city of Babylon. He built an enormous ziggurat, the temple of Marduk (Marduk was Babylon's patron god). He also built a massive wall around the city, said to be 80 feet thick, wide enough for four-horse chariots to race on. These walls were so large and grand, especially the Ishtar Gate, that they too were considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World -- until they were bumped off the list by the Lighthouse in Alexandria.
Despite these other awesome creations, it was the Hanging Gardens that captured people's imagination and remained one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
What Did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon Look Like?
It may seem surprising how little we know about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. First, we don't know exactly where it was located. It is said to have been placed close to the Euphrates River for access to water and yet no archeological evidence has been found to prove its exact location. It remains the only Ancient Wonder whose location has not yet been found.
According to legend, King Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens for his wife Amytis, who missed the cool temperatures, mountainous terrain, and beautiful scenery of her homeland in Persia. In comparison, her hot, flat, and dusty new home of Babylon must have seemed completely drab.
It is believed that the Hanging Gardens was a tall building, built upon stone (extremely rare for the area), that in some way resembled a mountain, perhaps by having multiple terraces. Located on top of and overhanging the walls (hence the term "hanging" gardens) were numerous and varied plants and trees. Keeping these exotic plants alive in a desert took a massive amount of water. Thus, it is said, some sort of engine pumped water up through the building from either a well located below or directly from the river.
Amytis could then walk through the rooms of the building, being cooled by the shade as well as the water-tinged air.
Did the Hanging Gardens Ever Really Exist?
There is still much debate about the existence of the Hanging Gardens. The Hanging Gardens seem magical in a way, too amazing to have been real. Yet, so many of the other seemingly-unreal structures of Babylon have been found by archaeologists and proven to have really existed.
Yet the Hanging Gardens remains aloof. Some archaeologists believe that remains of the ancient structure have been found in the ruins of Babylon. The problem is that these remains are not near the Euphrates River as some descriptions have specified.
Also, there is no mention of the Hanging Gardens in any contemporary Babylonian writings. This leads some to believe that the Hanging Gardens were a myth, described only by Greek writers after the fall of Babylon.
A new theory, proposed by Dr. Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University, states that there was a mistake made in the past and that the Hanging Gardens were not located in Babylon; instead, they were located in the northern Assyrian city of Ninevah and were built by King Sennacherib. The confusion could have been caused because Ninevah was, at one time, known as New Babylon.
Unfortunately, the ancient ruins of Ninevah are located in a contested and thus dangerous part of Iraq and thus, at least for now, excavations are impossible to conduct. Perhaps one day, we will know the truth about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.