The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

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• Part 2: Other Mysteries

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Part 1: Did They Exist?

The Hanging Gardens were one of Babylon's most impressive sites, according to Greek historians. Yet mysteries of how they were built and kept up remain.

They were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, yet no one knows for sure whether they existed. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a wonder to look at, according to anyone who saw them and wrote about them. Greek writers were certainly impressed by them. Yet where were they, and why were they built?

Historians are fairly certain that they know the answer to the first question: Where were they? Recent excavations of the ancient city of Babylon have revealed a likely theory that the Gardens weren't really hanging but were on high rooftops, giving the illusion of hanging. It has been suggested that the plants that filled the rooftop garden had vines so long that they covered the building walls, giving the impression that the plants "hung" in midair.

In fact, the name comes from a mistranslation of the Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis, which mean not just "hanging", but "overhanging" as in the case of a terrace or balcony.

One of the more common mysteries has been how the plants were given water. Babylon, after all, is in the middle of a desert. Excavations in recent years have shed light on this question. Archaeologists now think that a sort of pump system was designed, utilizing buckets of water on a sort of pulley (like our modern conveyor belt). No such object has been found, of course, but the evidence that has been found fits in with this theory.

"The approach to the Garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier... On all this, the earth had been piled... and was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size and other charm, gave pleasure to the beholder... The water machines [raised] the water in great abundance from the river, although no one outside could see it."

–Diodorus Siculus, Greek historian

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