Did The Hanging Gardens Even Exist? The Most Mysterious Wonder Of The Ancient World

By | June 9, 2021

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An artist rendition of the Hanging Gardens. (Getty Images)

Of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one of them, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, has remained elusive to archaeologists and historians. In fact, they may have never existed.

What Were The Hanging Gardens, And Why Did They Hang?

According to accounts in Greek and Roman texts, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a lush, manmade oasis in the desert. It was supposedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century B.C.E. as a special gift to his beloved wife, Amytis, who had moved to Babylon from Media upon her wedding and quickly grew homesick for the green gardens and fragrant flowers of her homeland.

The gardens were said to be 75 feet tall, consisting of vines, herbs, and flowers cascading from terraces alongside waterfalls, giving the impression that the foliage was hanging from above. To keep them alive in the hot, dry climate of Babylon, the king's engineers had to design a series of waterwheels, water screws, and pumps that diverted water from the Euphrates River to the top tier of the garden, while wells and cisterns held water that would be delivered to the plants. It was a system that was well ahead of its time ... if it existed.

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Assyrian wall relief showing gardens in Nineveh. (Noah Wiener/Wikimedia Commons)

Did The Hanging Gardens Really Exist?

In the historical records, the ancient Babylonians never mention the gardens. This alone was enough for scholars to question their existence, but archaeologists have also searched the ruins of Babylon for the Hanging Gardens for hundreds of years, and no one has ever found conclusive evidence of them. Could the Hanging Gardens of Babylon be a "historical mirage," something that is written about but never really existed? Perhaps the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were simply an ancient urban legend.

Maybe they just weren't in Babylon. They might have been located in Nineveh, some 300 miles to the north, commissioned by King Sennacherib of Assyria about a century earlier than previously thought. His palace was said to have included a "great wonder for all the peoples" that used the Archimedes' screw to pull water up from the river, and archaeologists have discovered bas reliefs in the area that show it accompanied by beautiful, lush gardens. The climate and topography of Nineveh, which housed an impressive system of aqueducts beneath the city, is also better suited for such a garden. It might come down to a simple historical error: In 689 B.C.E., Assyria defeated Babylon and seized control of the region, and for a time, Nineveh was called "New Babylon." The Hanging Gardens of Babylon might have actually been the Hanging Gardens of New Babylon.