Interesting facts about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World listed by Hellenic culture.

They are said to be one of the most incredible feats of engineering in the world at the time.

Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II was said to have constructed the luxurious Hanging Gardens in the 6th century BC as a gift to his wife, Amytis, who was homesick for the beautiful vegetation and mountains of her native Media (the northwestern part of modern-day Iran).

To make the desert bloom, a marvel of irrigation engineering would have been required. Scientists have surmised that a system of pumps, waterwheels and cisterns would have been employed to raise and deliver the water from the nearby Euphrates River to the top of the gardens.

Greek and Roman texts paint vivid pictures of the luxurious Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

They were described as a remarkable feat of engineering with an ascending series of tiered gardens containing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines, resembling a large green mountain constructed of mud bricks.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the site of the Hanging Gardens had not yet been conclusively established. Nevertheless, many theories persisted regarding the structure and location of the gardens.

Three theories have been suggested to account for this: firstly, that they were purely mythical, and the descriptions found in ancient Greek and Roman writings represented a romantic ideal of an eastern garden – secondly, that they existed in Babylon, but were completely destroyed sometime around the 1st century AD – and thirdly, that the legend refers to a well-documented garden that the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704–681 BC) built in his capital city of Nineveh on the River Tigris, near the modern city of Mosul.

There are five principal writers whose descriptions of Babylon exist in some form today. These writers concern themselves with the size of the Hanging Gardens, their overall design and means of irrigation, and why they were built.

Josephus (c. 37–100 AD) quotes a description of the gardens by Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk, whose writing c. 290 BC is the earliest known mention of the gardens. Berossus described the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II and is the only source to credit that king with the construction of the Hanging Gardens.

Hanging gardens of Semiramis, by H. Waldeck Diodorus Siculus (active c. 60–30 BC) seems to have consulted the 4th century BC texts of both Cleitarchus (a historian of Alexander the Great) and Ctesias of Cnidus. Diodorus ascribes the construction to a Syrian king. He states that the garden was in the shape of a square, with each side approximately four plethra long. The garden was tiered, with the uppermost gallery being 50 cubits high. The walls, 22 feet thick, were made of brick. The bases of the tiered sections were sufficiently deep to provide root growth for the largest trees, and the gardens were irrigated from the nearby Euphrates.

Quintus Curtius Rufus (fl. 1st century AD) probably drew on the same sources as Diodorus. He states that the gardens were located on top of a citadel, which was 20 stadia in circumference. He attributes the building of the gardens to a Syrian king, again for the reason that his queen missed her homeland.

The account of Strabo (c. 64 BC – 21 AD) possibly based his description on the lost account of Onesicritus from the 4th century BC. He states that the gardens were watered by means of an Archimedes’ screw leading to the gardens from the Euphrates river.

The last of the classical sources thought to be the paradoxographer Philo of Byzantium. Around 225 BC Philo, produced a list of seven temata — “things to be seen” — that are better known today as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Pyramids at Giza, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Pharos of Alexandria and, most mysterious of all, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Many revisions of Philo’s list followed, and other sites were added and removed according to the tastes of the times. But the Philo seven have become canonical, a snapshot of the monuments whose size and engineering prowess awed the classical mind.