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Where Are the Real Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

The concept of a “bucket list” can indeed be traced back to ancient Greek times. In 225 BC, an influential Greek engineer named Philo compiled a list known as “The themes” or “thémata,” which translates to “things to be seen.” This compilation was intended for ancient pilgrims seeking remarkable sights to behold. Today, this list is recognized as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

According to, the Seven Wonders included the Colossus of Rhodes, the Pyramids at Giza, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Pharos of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Zeus Statue of Olympia, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. However, of these seven wonders, only the Pyramids at Giza have managed to withstand the test of time.

The remaining five wonders either vanished entirely or exist only as ruins. Fortunately, abundant archaeological and historical evidence supports the existence of these structures, allowing us to envision their grandeur and appreciate their significance in ancient times.

However, the case of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon presents a more perplexing challenge. Not only do ancient records surrounding the Gardens contain inconsistencies, but despite extensive excavations in the vicinity of Babylon, experts have failed to discover any tangible traces of the lush gardens.

The absence of concrete evidence and the inability to locate remnants of the Hanging Gardens at the traditional site of Babylon have led experts to question whether we have been searching in the wrong place all along. This uncertainty has prompted a reevaluation of the assumptions and approaches taken in exploring the elusive wonder.

Some experts now surmise that perhaps the traditional location of Babylon may not be the correct one for the Gardens. Dr. Stephanie Dalley’s alternative theory, which suggests that the Hanging Gardens might have been situated in the Assyrian city of Nineveh, has garnered attention and sparked fresh avenues of investigation.

In light of this new perspective, the search for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon continues beyond the confines of Babylon itself. Explorations in other potential locations, such as Nineveh, are being contemplated, with the hope of uncovering evidence that can shed light on the true nature and whereabouts of this captivating ancient wonder.

Ultimately, the quest to unravel the mystery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon serves as a reminder of the limitations of our historical knowledge and the ongoing nature of archaeological discovery.

Miniature reproduction of the Hanging Gardens at Babylon by Brother Joseph Zoettl (1878-1961), a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama at the Ave Maria Grotto.

Where Are the Real Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

Where Is Babylon?

The Gardens of Babylon, also known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, their exact location remains a subject of debate and speculation among historians and archaeologists.

According to historical accounts, the Gardens were built in the ancient city of Babylon, which was located in present-day Iraq. Babylon was a major city in Mesopotamia, situated on the east bank of the Euphrates River, approximately 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of present-day Baghdad.

The Gardens were believed to have been constructed around the 6th century BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift to his wife Amytis. They were described as an elaborate series of terraced gardens containing a variety of trees, plants, and flowers, with an intricate system of irrigation to supply water to the plants.

Unfortunately, despite the prominence and awe surrounding the Gardens of Babylon, no definitive archaeological evidence has been found to confirm their existence. The exact location and fate of the Gardens remain elusive, and their description primarily relies on historical texts and accounts.

Learn more on National Geographic.

The Mystery of the Hanging Gardens

Babylon enjoys extensive historical records of its kings, accomplishments, and even the streets’ names. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the splendid Hanging Gardens, even beyond the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The first mention of the gardens is in an ancient source by Berossus of Kos, a Babylonian priest who moved to Greece. However, his work survives only as quotes in the work of later writers. The descriptions of Berossus have been corroborated by archaeology.

The Hanging Gardens were a series of palatial stone terraces with lots of large trees and flowers, towering against white clouds’ backdrop. The vegetative terraces were an architectural style and a functional purpose: they made irrigation easier. The water came from a source at the top and cascaded to the levels below. This sloped garden design remains popular today. Many homes have several levels of retaining walls populated with flourishing flowers and shrubs. These retaining walls often feature waterscapes illuminated by LED garden uplights. It can be imagined that in the time of Babylon, torches illuminated the terraces, and water cascaded like a complex fountain running the length of the levels.

There was a romantic element to the gardens, as well. Berossus claims that it was built as Nebuchadnezzar’s gift to his wife, Amytis, who felt homesick in Babylon’s arid deserts and yearned for her green homeland. Many other writers spoke about the garden in detail, but it’s important to note that the descriptions were written centuries after Nebuchadnezzar, and the writers never visited Babylon. They also didn’t know much about engineering or horticulture.

The mystery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon primarily stems from the lack of physical evidence confirming their existence. While the Gardens are widely mentioned in ancient texts and regarded as a magnificent wonder, their precise location and architectural details have eluded researchers.

The ancient accounts describing the Gardens come from various sources, including the writings of Greek historians such as Herodotus and Strabo. However, these accounts were written several centuries after the supposed construction of the Gardens, and some inconsistencies and embellishments have been identified.

The main mysteries surrounding the Hanging Gardens include:

  1. Location: The exact site of the Gardens is uncertain. Babylon itself was a vast and complex city, and identifying the specific area where the Gardens were situated has proven challenging. Various archaeological expeditions have been conducted in the region, but no conclusive evidence has been found so far.
  2. Architecture: The architectural design and engineering feats required to create the Gardens have intrigued scholars. The Gardens were described as a series of ascending terraces, resembling a large artificial mountain. Constructing such an elaborate structure, including the irrigation system necessary to water the plants, would have been a significant achievement for the time.
  3. Purpose: While the Gardens were believed to have been built as a gift to King Nebuchadnezzar II’s wife, Amytis, some theories suggest alternative purposes. Some propose that the Gardens served a practical function, such as providing a source of food or acting as a botanical garden. Others argue that they were more symbolic in nature, representing a paradise or an expression of power and wealth.

Due to the lack of definitive evidence, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon continue to capture the imagination and curiosity of historians, archaeologists, and enthusiasts. The mystery surrounding their existence has led to ongoing debates and further exploration to uncover the truth behind this ancient wonder.

Could It Be Elsewhere?

Dr. Stephanie Dalley, an honorary research fellow at Oxford University, says that the reason there’s no evidence found in Babylon is that the Hanging Gardens were not in Babylon.

Instead, the legendary gardens were built about 480 km north of Babylon, in Nineveh’s ancient city, the capital of the rival Assyrian Empire. It now sits near modern Mosul, Iraq. She asserts that the Assyrian king Sennacherib (see Wikipedia) and not Nebuchadnezzar commissioned the gardens. Sennacherib had a reputation for engineering innovation, and archives about his reign described irrigation systems ahead of their time. Some historians attribute the invention of the Archimedes water screw to Sennacherib.

The mix-up can be attributed, she says, to the fact that Assyria conquered Babylon in 689 BC. When Babylon fell, Nineveh was hailed as the “New Babylon.” Sennacherib even renamed the gates of Nineveh after the gates of Babylon.

There’s enough evidence to give the assumption a solid footing. Recent excavations in Nineveh’s site revealed remnants of an extensive aqueduct system that ferried water from the mountains to the city. Artifacts depicted a lush garden powered by an aqueduct. These excavations are closer to the Hanging Gardens’ historical mentions than any other site unearthed in Babylon.

That said, experts who believe this theory asserts that the wonder should be renamed the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh. And it would finally put the looming doubt of the garden’s existence to rest.

Dr. Stephanie Dalley, an esteemed researcher and honorary research fellow at Oxford University, has put forward an alternative theory regarding the location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to her research, Dr. Dalley suggests that the Gardens were not actually situated in the city of Babylon itself, as commonly believed.

Dr. Dalley proposes that the Gardens were instead located in the Assyrian city of Nineveh, which was situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in what is now modern-day Iraq. Her hypothesis is based on deciphering ancient cuneiform tablets, inscriptions, and historical accounts.

One key piece of evidence she highlights is an Assyrian relief that depicts King Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. The relief portrays a lush, elevated garden with trees and plants, reminiscent of the descriptions of the Hanging Gardens. Dr. Dalley argues that this relief suggests the existence of a similar garden in Nineveh.

Furthermore, Dr. Dalley has identified an ancient text known as the “Missing Description” tablet. This tablet, which was discovered in the British Museum archives, contains a detailed account of a garden that matches the characteristics attributed to the Hanging Gardens. The text mentions a garden in Nineveh, built by King Sennacherib, which included various terraces and a complex system of water-raising screws.

Dr. Dalley’s theory challenges the traditional assumption that the Gardens were located in Babylon. She suggests that the confusion may have arisen due to the Assyrian conquest of Babylon, during which the Assyrian kings might have constructed gardens similar to those in Nineveh.

It’s important to note that Dr. Dalley’s theory is not universally accepted among scholars, and the debate regarding the true location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon continues. The lack of conclusive evidence and the complexity of deciphering ancient texts contribute to the ongoing mystery surrounding this ancient wonder.

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