Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon - is there proof of their existence?

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were an amazing sight: A green, leafy, artificial mountain rising off the plain. But did it actually exist? Some historians argue that the gardens were only a fictional creation because they do not appear in a list of Babylonian monuments composed during the period. Either that or they were mixed up with another set of gardens built by King Sennacherib in the city of Nineveh around 700 B.C.. Is it possible that Greek scholars who wrote the accounts about the Babylon site several centuries later confused these two different locations? If the gardens really were in Babylon, can the remains be found to prove their existence?

These were probably some of the questions that occurred to German archaeologist Robert Koldewey in 1899. For centuries the ancient city of Babel had been nothing but a mound of muddy debris never explored by scientists. Though unlike many ancient locations, the city's position was well-known, nothing visible remained of its architecture. Koldewey dug on the Babel site for some fourteen years and unearthed many of its features including the outer walls, inner walls, foundation of the Tower of Babel, Nebuchadnezzar's palaces and the wide processional roadway which passed through the heart of the city.

While excavating the Southern Citadel, Koldewey discovered a basement with fourteen large rooms with stone arch ceilings. Ancient records indicated that only two locations in the city had made use of stone, the north wall of the Northern Citadel, and the Hanging Gardens. The north wall of the Northern Citadel had already been found and had, indeed, contained stone. This made Koldewey think that he had found the cellar of the gardens.
He continued exploring the area and discovered many of the features reported by Diodorus. Finally, a room was unearthed with three large, strange holes in the floor. Koldewey concluded this had been the location of the chain pumps that raised the water to the garden's roof.
The foundations that Koldewey discovered measured some 100 by 150 feet. This was smaller than the measurements described by ancient historians, but still impressive.

While Koldewey was convinced he'd found the gardens, some modern archaeologists call his discovery into question, arguing that this location is too far from the river to have been irrigated with the amount of water that would have been required. Also, tablets recently found at the site suggest that the location was used for administrative and storage purposes, not as a pleasure garden.
If they did exist, what happened to the gardens? There is a report that they were destroyed by an earthquake in the second century B.C.. If so, the jumbled remains, mostly made of mud-brick, probably slowly eroded away with the infrequent rains.

Whatever the fate of the gardens were, we can only wonder if Queen Amyitis, the homesick wife of  King Nebuchadnezzar II, was happy with her fantastic present, or if she continued to pine for the green mountains of her distant homeland.