Friday, April 09, 2004

The Hanging Gardens

The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). It was not until the reign of Naboplashar (625-605 BC) of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization (todays Iran and Iraq) reached its ultimate glory. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens. According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar's homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The land she came from, though, was green, rugged 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.
The famous Greek Historian, Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn. The inner walls were "not so thick as the first, but hardly less strong." Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach to the heavens. While archaeological examination has disputed some of Herodotus's claims (the outer walls seem to be only 10 miles long and not nearly as high) his narrative does give us a sense of how awesome the features of the city appeared to those that visited it.
The Hanging Gardens probably did not really "hang" in the sense of being suspended from cables or ropes. The name comes from an inexact translation of the Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis, which mean not just "hanging", but "overhanging" as in the case of a terrace or balcony.
Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, stated that the platforms on which the garden stood consisted of huge slabs of stone, covered with layers of reed, asphalt and tiles. Over this was put "a covering with sheets of lead, that the wet which drenched through the earth might not rot the foundation. Upon all these was laid earth of a convenient depth, sufficient for the growth of the greatest trees. When the soil was laid even and smooth, it was planted with all sorts of trees, which both for greatness and beauty might delight the spectators."
How big were the gardens? Diodorus tells us it was about 400 feet wide by 400 feet long and more than 80 feet high. Other accounts indicate the height was equal to the outer city walls. Walls that Herodotus said were 320 feet high.
More recent archaeological excavations at the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq uncovered the foundation of the palace. Other findings include the Vaulted Building with thick walls and an irrigation well near the southern palace. A group of archaeologists surveyed the area of the southern palace and reconstructed the Vaulted Building as the Hanging Gardens. However, the Greek historian Strabo had stated that the gardens were situated by the River Euphrates. So others argue that the site is too far from the Euphrates to support the theory since the Vaulted Building is several hundreds of meters away. They reconstructed the site of the palace and located the Gardens in the area stretching from the River to the Palace. On the river banks, recently discovered massive walls 25 m thick may have been stepped to form terraces... the ones described in Greek references.
I included this amazing site in my weblog since Babylon was once considered a part of Persia. As a matter of fact when we reffer to Mesopotamian civilization, the main aim is the consideration of Iran and Iraq's ancient world.