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What were 'The Hanging Gardens of Babylon' - Part 5 of the 'Seven Wonderful Wonders' Series

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

There were seven wonders of the ancient world. Seven wondrous buildings that blew the socks off (Okay, probably not socks back then. Let's say sandals were getting blown off instead) anyone who saw them. In our ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ series, here on the Imagining History Blog, we’ll be checking out each of these marvels of human engineering and ingenuity. There’ll be a new article in the series every fortnight, so be sure to check back here regularly for your next history fun time fix.


We’ve already had a look at the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, The Temple of Artemis, and the Golden Statue of Zeus. Now, we’re going to visit the mysterious Hanging Gardens of Babylon.


A 19th Century Depiction of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

So, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders was a big garden then?

That’s right, but not just any garden, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were meant to be #thebestgardenevababy. They certainly seemed to live up to that poorly spelled hashtag. The Gardens were supposedly tiered, constructed on a pyramid-like structure of massive mud bricks. Each tier was overflowing with greenery; flowers bloomed, trees swayed, and waterfalls… erm… fell, I guess? I mean, what else do waterfalls do? Splash? I’ll go with that, and waterfalls splashed.

Could the Hanging Gardens of Babylon looked liks this?

I mean, that’s pretty good and all, but I’ve seen loads of gardens like that. My mum’s garden, for example, has a wonderful waterfall that both falls and splashes. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon really doesn’t sound impressive enough to be an Ancient Wonder.

True, until you consider that the Gardens were built around 600 BCE in the legendary city of Babylon.


So?

Babylon was in modern-day Iraq.


Iraq? Isn’t it really hot, arid, and rocky there?

Yep.


And those conditions are not suitable for keeping big gardens watered?

Absolutely not.


a 1950's version of an Archimedes' Screw. Could this clever device have brought water to the Hanging Gardens? Photo by Zdravko Pečar.

Whoa! The Babylonians planted and grew all that greenery in the middle of Iraq… amazing! But how did they water such a massive garden? It’s not like they had water pipes, taps, sprinklers, and hosepipes to keep all those plants fed… did they?

That’s the really impressive bit and no one knows the answer for certain, even people who – probably – visited the gardens are uncertain how the Babylonians kept everything pumped up with water. The watering process likely involved the nearby Euphrates River and a clever device called the Archimedes’ screw.


This was, basically, a big pipe with a rotating screw inside it that could be used to transport water uphill, enabling the Babylonians to transport water from the river all the way to the tippy top of the Hanging Gardens.




Hang on, hang on. So far there have been a lot of words like, ‘seems’, ‘probably’, and ‘supposedly’. Are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon another one of those annoying Ancient Wonders that might not have actually ever existed?

Unfortunately… yes. No trace of the Hanging Gardens has ever been found. Not only that, but the dude who was meant to have constructed it, Nebuchadnezzor II –


Great name.

I know, right!


Please continue.

Thank you. This Nebuchadnezzor II -


Great name.

I know, right!

Or did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually look like this?

Please continue.

Thank you. Wait, did we already say all this before?


No, I don’t think so.

Oh, ok, well this Nebuchadnezzor II -


Great name.

I know, right!


Please continue.

Wait, you are totally messing with me!


I know. But it was amusing to me that you took so long to realise.

We’ll discuss this later! Anyway, Nebuchadnezzor II –


Great –

No! This ‘person who shall not be named’ –


What, Voldemort?

No, that’s ‘you-know-who’.


Oh. So who is this ‘person who shall not be named’?

Nebuchadnezzor II.


Great name.

I know ri – ARRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!


Perhaps the Hanging Gardens looked like this?

I think I broke him…

Please, can I just finish this final point?


Oh all right, if you must. I want to go make a brew so I guess I’ll stop messing around.

Right, thank you, so, Nebuchadnezzor II, who supposedly constructed the Hanging Gardens didn’t mention them at all in his plentiful notes about all the stuff that was built during his reign. Seems like an odd omission, to leave out such an impressive and near-magical garden. Not only that but the written sources of historical visitors to the garden can’t seem to agree on what it actually looked like. Maybe the Hanging Gardens never existed at all and were only a legend? Or maybe one day we’ll find its remains, submerged by the Euphrates?


Good stuff, brew time then?

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