Trees of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

By Liliana Usvat

dates01

Hanging Gardens of Babylon is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

See the map of the Seven Wonders bellow.

sevenwonders

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an extension of a Babylonian and Assyrian tradition of planted gardens in cities, palace courtyards, and temples (the fist to “green” their cities and some of the earliest examples of city parks). The Gardens were presumably built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib and were not actually constructed at Babylon (the town), but at Nineveh (modern-day Mosul is built right across the Tigris River from the ancient town)

19-Babylon-North-Wind-Pictu  tamariskroots

There are two equally credible theories about who build the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, they are assumed to be the work either of semilegendary Queen Sammu-ramat (Greek Semiramis), the Assyrian queen who reigned from 810 to 783 BC, or of King Nebuchadrezzar II, the king of the Babylonian Empire, who reigned c. 605 BC – 562 BC. Though there are no compelling arguments about the credibility of any of the assumptions, the hanging Gardens of Babylon are often called the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis.

Euphrates-tigris-Map  ItalianCypress

The gardens were about 75 feet (22 meters) high. The image of the gardens is impressive not only for its blossoming flowers, ripe fruit, gushing waterfalls, terraces lush with rich foliage, and exotic creatures, but also for the engineering feat of supplying the massive, raised gardens with soil and water.

archimedes-screw

German architect and archaeologist Robert Koldewey who is known for revealing the semilegendary Babylon as a geographic and historical reality, discovered huge vaults and arches at the site. He also uncovered an ancient hydraulic system like a pump drawing water from the river.

water_chainpump   date-palms

Traditionally they were said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq. The Babylonian priest Berossus, writing in about 290 BC and quoted later by Josephus, attributed the gardens to the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605 and 562 BC. There are no extant Babylonian texts which mention the gardens, and no definitive archaeological evidence has been found in Babylon.

tamarisk111

What kinds of trees were there? Stephanie Dalley gives us some insight to that question and about the Babylonian and Assyrian predilection towards gardens (they built one as long as 4000 years ago). Based on Babylonian literature, tradition, and the environmental characteristics of the area , she concluded that certainly the tamarisk (tamarix, salt-cedar)

111tamarisk   490-tamarisk01-wholetree-to-check_67203_1

and the date-palm (Phoenix dactylifera) trees were there. Even Gilgamesh weighs in on this tradition:

5Dates  canary_island_date_palm

“One square mile is city, one square mile is orchards, one square mile is claypits”

And in these orchards grew tamarisk and date-palms. Presumably in the Hanging Gardens as well. Trees were scarce in ancient and modern Iraq and the ones that were able to grow in hostile climates were revered. The tamarisk and date-palms are tough plants, capable of withstanding the heat and aridity of the area. And they have their economic uses as well (dates, palm oil all were, and still are, heavily traded commodities).

tamarisk,

In ancient writings the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were first described by Berossus, a Babylonian priest of Marduk who wrote around 290 BC, although his books are known only from quotations by later authors (e.g., Flavius Josephus). There are five principal writers (including Berossus) whose descriptions of Babylon are extant in some form today. These writers concern themselves with the size of the Hanging Gardens, why and how they were built, and how the gardens were irrigated.

hanging-gardens-of-babylon-ruins    juniper

Evidence of these pumps may have been discovered in 1899 by the archeologist, Robert Koldewey. (Hanging, 2010). He found stone ruins that fit the description of the documentation of the gardens. Documentation stated that only two structures in this area were created using stone. These were the Hanging Gardens and one other structure, which had already been discovered. So, Koldewey thought he had discovered the gardens. He also discovered a room with three big holes that he was convinced this had been part of the water chain pump. The structure that Koldewey found was around 100 by 150 fifty feet. This is not near as big as documents have claimed, but it is still amazing for that time period (Hanging, 2010).

myrtle

Due to this height, water was said to have been transported from a lake at the bottom using a similar principle as Archimedes’ screw — a pump that scoops up water in a spiral tube and carries it to the top.

The pump was said to have been invented by Archimedes in the 3rd Century BC yet if a similar system was used in the gardens, this would predate it by around 350 years.

Schroef_van_Archimedes

Given the size, historians have estimated the gardens would have used 8,200 gallons of water a day to water the plants.

SeaWorld_screw_big  firs

Some texts referred to the plants in the gardens as ‘floating’ but they were believed, instead, to have hung from these different terraces, giving them the appearance of being suspended in mid-air.

SI Exif

A Greek historian named Diordorus Siculus described the gardens as being 400ft wide by 400ft long, with walls as high as 80ft.

The gardens had exotic flourishing plants. These plants were cultivated above ground level. Nebuchadnezzar imported the plants from foreign lands. The plants may have included “cedar, cypress, myrtle, juniper,

Almond-Tree

almond, date palm, ebony, olive, oak, terebinth, nuts, ash, firs, nightshade, willow,

pomegranate111

pomegranate, plum,

peartree-33  Pear_Tree_01

pear,

quince-flower-wallpaper1  quince11Quince

quince,

fig-tree  tree_quote_morton_bay_fig_tree

fig, and

grapevine11

grapevine.”

The plants were suspended over the heads of observers on terraces, they draped over the terraced walls. Arches were underneath these terraces. The brilliantly colored trees and flowers that dangled from the walls created a lush and magical environment.

Historians about Hanging Gardens.

Josephus (ca. 37–100 AD) quoted Berossus (writing ca. 290 BC), when he described the gardens. Berossus described the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, and is the only writer to credit that king with the construction of the Hanging Gardens.

datestreepalm

In this palace he erected very high walks, supported by stone pillars; and by planting what was called a pensile paradise, and replenishing it with all sorts of trees, he rendered the prospect an exact resemblance of a mountainous country.

Date_palm_JPG

Diodorus Siculus (active ca. 60–30 BC) seems to have consulted the early 4th century BC texts of Ctesias of Cnidus for his description of the Hanging Gardens:

There was also, beside the acropolis, the Hanging Garden, as it is called, which was built, not by Semiramis, but by a later Syrian king to please one of his concubines; for she, they say, being a Persian by race and longing for the meadows of her mountains, asked the king to imitate, through the artifice of a planted garden, the distinctive landscape of Persia. The park extended four plethra on each side, and since the approach to the garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier, the appearance of the whole resembled that of a theatre.

Hanging-Gardens-2

On all this again earth had been piled to a depth sufficient for the roots of the largest trees; and the ground, when levelled off, was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size or other charm, could give pleasure to the beholder. And since the galleries, each projecting beyond another, all received the light, they contained many royal lodgings of every description; and there was one gallery which contained openings leading from the topmost surface and machines for supplying the gardens with water, the machines raising the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it being done. Now this park, as I have said, was a later construction.

nightshade

Quintus Curtius Rufus (active 1st century AD) referred to the writings of Cleitarchus, a 4th-century BC historian of Alexander the Great, when writing his own History of Alexander the Great:

The Babylonians also have a citadel twenty stades in circumference. The foundations of its turrets are sunk thirty feet into the ground and the fortifications rise eighty feet above it at the highest point. On its summit are the hanging gardens, a wonder celebrated by the fables of the Greeks. They are as high as the top of the walls and owe their charm to the shade of many tall trees.

tamariskflowers

So stout are the trees the structure supports that their trunks are eight cubits thick and their height as much as fifty feet; they bear fruit as abundantly as if they were growing in their natural environment. And although time with its gradual decaying processes is as destructive to nature’s works as to man’s, even so this edifice survives undamaged, despite being subjected to the pressure of so many tree-roots and the strain of bearing the weight of such a huge forest.

OliveBabilon

He built it out of love for his wife who missed the woods and forests in this flat country and persuaded her husband to imitate nature’s beauty with a structure of this kind.

Strabo (ca. 64 BC – 21 AD) described of the Hanging Gardens as follows, in a passage that was thought to be based on the lost account of Onesicritus from the 4th century BC:

Babylon, too, lies in a plain; and the circuit of its wall is three hundred and eighty-five stadia. The thickness of its wall is thirty-two feet; the height thereof between the towers is fifty cubits; that of the towers is sixty cubits; and the passage on top of the wall is such that four-horse chariots can easily pass one another; and it is on this account that this and the hanging garden are called one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

ebony_tree

The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations. The checkered foundations, which are hollowed out, are covered so deep with earth that they admit of the largest of trees, having been constructed of baked brick and asphalt – the foundations themselves and the vaults and the arches. The ascent to the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway; and alongside these stairs there were screws, through which the water was continually conducted up into the garden from the Euphrates by those appointed for this purpose, for the river, a stadium in width, flows through the middle of the city; and the garden is on the bank of the river.”

tamarisk

Philo of Byzantium, “the Paradoxographer” (writing in the 4th-5th century AD), whose list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World we use today, was credited with the following description:

tamarix-tree-blooming-15537489

The so-called Hanging Gardens have plants above ground, and are cultivated in the air, with the roots of the trees above the (normal) tilled earth, forming a roof. Four stone columns are set beneath, so that the entire space through the carved pillars is beneath the (artificial) ground. Palm trees lie in place on top of the pillars, alongside each other as (cross-)beams, leaving very little space in between.

This timber does not rot, unlike others; when it is soaked and put under pressure it swells up and nourishes the growth from roots, since it incorporates into its own interstices what is planted with it from outside.

13311tamarisk

Much deep soil is piled on, and then broad-leaved and especially garden trees of many varieties are planted, and all kind of flowering plants, everything, in short, that is most joyous and pleasurable to the onlooker. The place is cultivated as if it were (normal) tilled earth, and the growth of new shoots has to be pruned almost as much as on normal land.

grapevine

This (artificial) arable land is above the heads of those who stroll along through the pillars. When the uppermost surface is walked on, the earth on the roofing stays firm and undisturbed just like a (normal) place with deep soil.

cedarbabilon

Aqueducts contain water running from higher places; partly they allow the flow to run straight downhill, and partly they force it up, running backwards, by means of a screw; through mechanical pressure they force it round and round the spirals of the machines. Being discharged into close-packed, large cisterns, altogether they irrigate the whole garden, inebriating the roots of the plants to their depths, and maintaining the wet arable land, so that it is just like an evergreen meadow, and the leaves of the trees, on the tender new growth, feed upon dew and have a wind-swept appearance.

For the roots, suffering no thirst, sprout anew, benefitting from the moisture of the water that runs past, flowing at random, interweaving along the lower ground to the collecting point, and reliably protects the growing of trees that have become established.Recent archaeological digs at Babylon have unearthed a major palace, a vaulted building with thick walls (perhaps the one mentioned by Greek historians), and an irrigation well in proximity to the palace. Although an archaeological team surveyed the palace site and presented a reconstruction of the vaulted building as being the actual Hanging Gardens, accounts by Strabo place the Hanging Gardens at another location, nearer the Euphrates River. Other archaeologists insist that since the vaulted building is thousands of feet from the Euphrates, it is too distant to support the original claims even if Strabo happened to be wrong about the location. The latter team reconstructed the site of the palace, placing the Hanging Gardens in a zone running from the river to the palace. Interestingly, on the banks of the Euphrates, a newly discovered, immense, 82-foot thick wall may have been stepped to form terraces like those mentioned by the ancient Greek sources.

Exuberant and fit for a king is the ingenuity, and most of all, forced, because the cultivator’s hard work is hanging over the heads of the spectators.

Blog 94 -365

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About lilianausvat

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