The mystery of hanging gardens

The Hanging Gardens were one of Babylon’s most impressive sites, according to Greek historians. They were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, yet no one knows for sure whether they existed. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a wonder to look at, according to anyone who saw them and wrote about them. Greek writers were certainly impressed by them. Yet where were they, and why were they built?

Historians are fairly certain that they know the answer to the first question: Where were they? Recent excavations of the ancient city of Babylon have revealed a likely theory that the Gardens weren’t really hanging but were on high rooftops, giving the illusion of hanging. It has been suggested that the plants that filled the rooftop garden had vines so long that they covered the building walls, giving the impression that the plants “hung” in midair.

In fact, the name comes from a mistranslation of the Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis. which means not just “hanging”, but “overhanging” as in the case of a terrace or balcony.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an architectural feat. The Greek geographer Strabo, who described the gardens in the first century BC, wrote. “Ji consists of vaulted terraces raised one above another, and resting upon cube-shaped pillars. These are hollow and filled with earth to allow trees of the largest size to be planted. The pillars, vaults, and terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt.” If the gardens did exist they would have presented an amazing spectacle: A green, leafy, artificial mountain rising off the plain.

One of the more common mysteries has been how the plants were given water. Babylon, after all, is in the middle of a desert. Excavations in recent years have shed light on this question. Archaeologists now think that a sort of pump system was designed, utilizing buckets of water on a sort of pulley. No such object has been found, of course, but the evidence that has been found fits in with this theory.

Another question is how the foundation of the Gardens was kept intact. The building was made of brick and the water needed to keep the plants alive must have had to have flown down a sort of drain in order not to soften the brick and make the whole roof collapse. Further. the Gardens were said to have been on several levels of terraces. Surely a dram would have had to be in place for each terrace level. Archaeologists are still working on this one.

The other big mystery is who had the gardens built. Babylon wasn’t a democracy, so we can probably surmise that slaves or laborers built the gardens. But who had them built?

The story traditionally has been that the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar II’s homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar II to create an alliance between the nations. The land she came from, though, was green and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing. The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens. No firsthand accounts of motives for building the Gardens exist, of course, so we are left to assume.

We can probably conclude that the Hanging Gardens existed, based on the theory that Enough people saw them and described them. We also can probably conclude that the system of providing water to all those plants was remarkable and ingenious, especially given the desert climate and the mechanical capabilities of the ancient Babylonians. However, we can definitely say that the Hanging Gardens continue to inspire the imagination.