The splendor and mystery of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World hold a fascination for many spanning the globe. Out of the seven, only one still remains intact — the pyramids of Giza — and there are ongoing archeological searches to find the remains of two: the Colossus of Rhodes and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The mystery of the Gardens has captivated me since I was a child. First mentioned in ancient Greek texts some 300 years after the Gardens were said to have existed, descriptions of the Gardens seemed almost otherworldly. A lush, terraced oasis in a vast desert landscape.
I often hoped that some brave archeologist would find evidence of its existence and be able to explain the Garden’s sustainability factor. Given the dry and arid climate of its suspected location, many have asked how the Gardens were supplied enough water to live and thrive.
It’s been thought that the Gardens were built by Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (ruled 605 – 562 BC). However, no archeological evidence has been found supporting the Babylonian location. This mystery spurred Dr. Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University’s Oriental Institute to look for clues as to the elusive Gardens’ whereabouts. Dalley is one of the few people in the world who is a codebreaker and can read cuneiform, one of the earliest known systems of writing. Studying the Gardens has been her passion for more than twenty years, and part of her studies have surrounded deciphering texts and bas-reliefs during Assyrian king Sennacherib’s reign (705 – 681 BC).
Sennacherib lived almost 50 years before Nebuchadnezzar II and is best known for building the wonderous city of Nineveh, located in Iraq some 315 miles north of ancient Babylon. In addition to building Nineveh, Sennacherib oversaw the first aqueduct and an irrigation system that supposedly rivaled that of the Roman Empire’s.
Dalley asserts that there are cuneiform descriptions of a terraced garden, that was akin to a Greek amphitheater, located in Sennacherib’s palace. She also mentioned the use of Archimedes’ screws to transport water to the upper levels of these gardens:
Dr. Dalley seems almost convinced that Sennacherib’s irrigation system could’ve supported the watering needs of something this grand. Additionally, in regards to the confusion over the Gardens’ Babylonian locale, Dr. Dalley pointed out that in 689 BC, Sennacherib sacked and conquered Babylon. Due to the overthrow, she says he may have have referred to the capital at Nineveh to be the ‘New Babylon.’ This logical explanation seems to suggest why the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were named as such instead of the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh.
Recently, PBS’ “Secrets of the Dead” series broadcasted a documentary following the trail of Dr. Dalley as she discovers evidence that supports her theories. The film was partially filmed in Iraq and shows some footage of Sennacherib’s ruined palace at Nineveh. It is definitely worth a view and you can watch it here for free on PBS’ website. (Should be viewed while wearing a brown fedora and whip though!)
If you get a chance to see the documentary, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought was the most fascinating aspect about the program. I’d love to hear from you.