The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

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This article has been written and contributed on behalf of Less Moving Stress.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

A true legend and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens were said to be one of the most impressive feats of biophilic design long before this term was ever used. They were located in the city of Babylon, built by the order of the legendary King Nebuchadnezzar II and  were apparently something truly breathtaking. The Greek historian Herodotus claims that the outer walls of the great city were 56 miles in length, nearly 80 feet thick and standing at the impressive 320 feet into the air. The location of the mythical and biblical Tower of Babel and a temple to the god Marduk, this city was well-known for its wealth, prosperity, culture and military might. One of the greatest achievements of this ancient civilization however was far from war, but closer to love.

Legend and historical accounts claim the great gardens were built by the order of the king, who ruled the ancient city for 43 years. At the height of their civilization, King Nebuchadnezzar was known as a great builder as he ordered the construction of many streets, walls, temples and palaces, the ruins of which can still be found today in what used to be Babylon. They say the king’s wife, Amyitis was feeling homesick, taken away from her father’s homeland of Medes when she was married to Nebuchadnezzar to seal an alliance between the two nations. She found the rough and sun-scorched terrain of Mesopotamia to be unpleasant and depressing. The king ordered the gardens to be created to give her a place where she can feel at home, in the lush greenery reminiscent of her own homeland. Medes was known for its mountainous terrain and beautiful plant life, so the gardens were created in a manner fitting that image.

Strabo was a Greek geographer, according to whom the gardens consisted of terraces, vaulted and raised above one another, resting upon pillars shaped like cubes. It was said they were filled with soil, allowing various trees to be planted. Asphalt and baked brick were used to create the vaults, terraces and pillars. They had access to the top layers by stairs and water engines, raising the water of the river Euphrates into the gardens themselves. According to Strabo, this was the most amazing engineering solution about the garden, allowing the plants there to survive the arid climate of Mesopotamia. This clever system of irrigation allowed what otherwise would have been impossible without serious intervention and long hours of work on part of those who took care of the garden. It is likely this irrigation system worked through a chain pump system, using two large wheel, one above the other, adorned with buckets hanging from them. A pool of water stands underneath them and this is where the buckets are filled from. A second pool situated between the two wheels serves as a midstation reservoir where the water is once again picked up and deposited at the top of the gardens. From there all they would have had to do was release the gates to let the water into irrigation channels, spanning the whole structure and thus feeding the water to the plants.

Another likely solution might have been the use of a screw pump to move the water to individual levels, as Archimedes had done a long time ago in the ancient world. Many modern day engineers speculate this was how it was done and Strabo himself gave a description of a similar device in what he saw in the gardens in his writings, however so far there is no evidence screw pumps existed before what was documented by Archimedes.

Whatever the case today the gardens are gone completely with no trace of them remaining as far as we know. Archeological efforts to find their location or any true proof thereof have not been conclusive, though it is likely they dissolved in the ravages of time. Much like the tower of Babel we will probably have serious difficulties identifying the exact location where they were.

Regardless of that however, the gardens must have been a breathtaking sight: A mountain of leafy, green plants rising above the arid plains of Mesopotamia in amazing contrast to the local landscape.  Although the location of the city of Babylon has been known for a long time, there is no true evidence and visual representations of the ancient construction apart from 16th century interpretation of their description from the ancient texts.

Sadly, history never explained whether this generous present on behalf of the king was appreciated or disliked by Queen Amyitis, and it is likely we will never know. Regardless of that, the gardens have become a symbol and a myth that will never be forgotten, serving as inspiration to green engineering and biophilic design solutions in modern construction.

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