Babylon lies 90 Kilometers south of Baghdad, and 10 Kilometers north of Hilla the road to Babylon branches of the main Baghdad-Hilla highway. Heavy traffic flows on a four-lane road, which becomes two lanes without any slowing of traffic speeds. Terraces and green gardens flourish behind walls, palm fronds sticking up like plants growing in giant, square pots. Army posts frequently block roads, always with armed soldiers halting traffic for inspections.
In the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is now modern Iraq, is a mound, or tell, of broken mud-brick buildings and debris. This is all that remains of the ancient famed city of Babylon. Historical resources inform us that Babylon was in the beginning a small town that had sprang up by the beginning of the third millennium BC (the dawn of the dynasties). The town flourished and attained notable prominence and political repute with the rise of the first Babylonian dynasty.
The number of temples that were put up at that time is said to have amounted to (1179) of various sizes and statuses. In addition a number of (153) other temples of a larger size and more sumptuous were also built and dedicated to the names of the greater gods. Among these, there are four mentioned viz.; the temple of "Nanmakh" meaning the great lady, and the temples of "Ishtar", "Babylon" and "Mardukh".
Babylon was a small town came into being in the beginning of the third millennium BC (era of dawn dynasties). It flourished by establishing the first Babylonian dynasty, which was founded by the Babylonian Prince Semo Abem in 1894 BC. In his reign, temples, palaces and walls were built, including as Nen Makh temple (The great lady), Ishtar temple, Baboo temple and Mardoukh temple. 11 kings ruled Babylon in the First Babylonian dynasty; the most famous king was Hammurabi who ruled for 42 years (1792-1750 BC). He was one of the kings who worked on unifying Iraq and keeping its safety. He also took a great interest in irrigation system, economic as well as religious affairs, and ustice among people. He was further known for his famous code of laws, which was the first legislation in the human history. It included 282 items.
From the first Babylonian dynasty eleven kings ruled Babylon, the most famous and illustrious of whom was King Hammurabi. He ruled Babylon for 42 years (1792-1750 BC). During his rule Hammurabi was able to consolidate and entrench the foundations of his kingdom. He triumphed over all the small statelets and is thereby considered among the first and foremost kings who exerted their efforts to unify Iraq and establish firmly its security. Hammurabi also paid great attention to matters of irrigation as well as the religious, economic and justice affairs of the state and people.
Hammurabi's name and fame especially shined in his renowned code of laws, which is deemed to be the first positive code of laws to be recorded in the history of humanity. The code included 282 legal items divided into three fields that began with a preamble and ended with a conclusion.
Babylon was further ruled by several other dynasties the last of which ruled in the later or modern era of Babylon and endured for about one century. The period of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is among the distinguished periods of reign in the ancient history of Iraq in particular and the ancient history of the middle east in general.
Among the more important works of King Nebuchadnezzar II is that he continued his conquests east and west and established an empire that was the strongest known in history. He made great efforts to rebuild and improve the city of Babylon and expand it. During his reign the area of the city of Babylon amounted to more than 10,000000m2 with a parameter of 18 kms. He surrounded the city with two walls, the outer one actually consisting of three walls. The thickness of the first one which was built of clay amounted to seven meters. The second was built of bricks and had a thickness of seven meters too. The third was also built of bricks and had a thickness of three meters.
Defensive towers were built all along the outer wall which itself was surrounded by a moat filled with water. The inner wall consisted of two rows or walls both of bricks with defensive towers in between. There were a great many buildings inside the wall of which some relics still stand. Among the still surviving buildings are the Southern Palace, the Northern Palace, Ishtar Gate, the Procession Street and the Babylon Tower. There is in the city of Babylon eight main gates (including those of Mardukh and Ishtar) in addition to the Lion of Babylon and the residential quarters.
In execution of the order of President Saddam Hussein the Southern Palace has been rebuilt and with it also the walls of the Procession Street and several temples. A Babylonian theater has been built with tourism facilities. Three mounts have been put up one bearing the name of Saddam along with vast lakes, gardens and orchards.
Babylon was ruled by many dynasties, the last one was the Modern Babylonian era dynasty that lasted for almost one century. Nabukhuthnusar II era was the most distinguished eras in the history of ancient east in general and one of the most powerful empires in history. He worked on enlarging Babylon. He surrounded it by two great walls. The outside wall consists of three smaller walls. The thickness of the two smaller walls, is 7 meters but the third one is 3 meters. Around the outside walls are security towers and in front of it lies a trench, whereas, the inside wall is built of two walls. Inside the wall there are great buildings like the Southern palace, Northern Palace, Ishtar Gate, Al-Mawkeb Street, and Babylon Tower.
Hammurabi made Babylon one of the great cities of the ancient world. Archaeologists have discovered that in his city the streets were laid out in straight lines that intersect approximately at right angles, an innovation that bears witness to city planning and strong central government.
There were 24 streets in Babylon, running either parallel to the river or at a right angle to it. These streets were narrow, irregular, ranging from about four to twenty feet in width with high windowless walls on each side. The streets were not paved, with the exception of the Processional Way, but instead created with raw earth. Streets provided access to houses, temples, and public buildings. They also carried the burden of becoming the dumping grounds for the city. The citizens of Babylon, not unlike those of Renaissance England, threw their garbage and filth into the streets. Then, they covered it up with layers of clay. As a result, the streets of Babylon began to rise, and eventually, houses needed to be built on higher ground.
The street known to the Babylonians as Aibur-shabu (the enemy shall never pass) was the name of the road leading from the north to the Ishtar gate. It was a broad paved road that ran for 200m between high walls (the eastern wall of the northern palace and the western side of the eastern outer bastion).
The most famous street was the "Processional Way" which ran along the eastern side of the southern palace, through the Ishtar gate and outside the inner town to a special festival house called the Bit Akitu situated to the north. The road climbs gently upwards towards gate. Center of the roadway was laid with huge flagstones of limestone, either side were slabs of reb beccia veined with white, each paving stone has an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar's dedication. On leaving the gate, the Processional Way goes past the Southern Palace, sloping downwards then some 900m south turns west between the ziggurat enclosure and the Marduk temple towards the Euphrates bridge built by both Nabonidus and Nebuchadnezzar.
The way was lined with figures of some 120 lions, the symbol of Ishtar in molded glazed bricks. The lions on the Ishtar gate have a dark blue background. They were either white with yellow mane or yellow with red manes (now weathered to green).
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are alluded to in many ancient historical texts, but it is the one Wonder which we are unsure even existed. Current day archeologists are still examining the evidence and trying to determine if and where these Gardens existed. The oldest and best historical reference to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon comes from the third century BC, written by a priest of Babylon named Berosus. He wrote an ancient document called the Babylonica, which is a wonderfully extensive document about many aspects of ancient Babylonian life. His source materials were ancient Babylonian cuneiform records, which he studied and interpreted. Cuneiform tablets were clay plaques into which the written language of Babylonian cuneiform was pressed using writing utensils made from reeds. In his historical documents, Berosus wrote about Babylonian astronomy, the history of the city, the ancient creation myths and the great Epic of Gilgamesh. He listed the dynasties of kings and the countries they ruled; and he also gave the most accurate record of the great Nebuchadnezzar's rule during his many years as King. The appeal of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon lies with the human desire to return to the simple and exquisite life in the Garden of Eden, a life of Earthly Paradise. The myth of an original Garden with perfumed trees and luscious fruits, birds and animal life, and rivers of life giving waters is common to many faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. This mystical and peaceful Paradise holds a fascination for the peoples of all ages and cultures, and which helps us to understand the allure of the first Wonder, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Bishop Prideaux, with considerable care and ingenuity, collected the statements of the different ancient writers into one narrative, which, affording a complete view of the most extensive city the world ever saw, in the description that follows:-
"Nebuchadnezzar being now at rest from all his wars, and in full peace at home, applied himself to the finishing of his buildings at Babylon. Semiramis is said by some, and Belus by others, to have first founded this city. But by whomsoever it was first founded, it was Nebuchadnezzar that made it one of the wonders of the world. The most famous works therein were,-the walls of the city; the temple of Belus; his palace, and the hanging gardens in it; the banks of the river; the artificial lake, and artificial canals made for the draining of that river,-in the magnificence and expense of which works, he much exceeded all that had been done by any king before him.
"The walls were every way prodigious, for they were in thickness eighty-seven feet, in height three hundred and fifty feet, and in compass four hundred and eighty furlongs, which make sixty of our miles. This is Herodotus's account of them, who was himself at Babylon, and is the most ancient author that hath wrote of this matter. And although there are others that differ from him herein, yet the most, that agree in any measures of those walls, give us the same or very near the same that he doth. Those who lay the height of them at fifty cubits, speak of them only as they were after the time of Darius Hystaspes; for the Babylonians having revolted from him, and in confidence of their strong walls stood out against him in a long siege, after he had taken the place, to prevent their rebellion for the future he took away their gates, and beat down their walls to the height last mentioned,-and beyond this they were never after raised. These walls were drawn round the city in the form of an exact square, each side of which was fifteen miles in length, and all built of large bricks cemented together with bitumen, a glutinous slime arising out of the earth in that country, which binds in building much stronger and firmer than lime, and soon grows much harder than the bricks or stones themselves, which they cement together. These walls were surrounded on the outside with a vast ditch filled with water, and lined with bricks on both sides, after the manner of a scarp or counterscarp; and the earth which was dug out of it made the bricks wherewith the walls were built; and, therefore, from the vast height and breadth of the walls may be inferred the greatness of the ditch.
"In every side of this great square were twenty-five gates, that is, a hundred in all, which were all made of solid brass; and hence it is, that when God promised to Cyrus the conquest of Babylon, he tells him that he would break in pieces before him the gates of brass. Between every two of these gates were three towers, and four more at the four corners of this great square, and three between each of these corners and the next gate on either side, and every one of these towers was ten feet higher than the walls. But this is to be understood only of those parts of the wall where there was need of towers; for some parts of them lying against morasses always full of water, where they could not be approached by an enemy, they had no need of any towers at all for their defense, and therefore in them were none built; for the whole number of them amounted to no more than two hundred and fifty; whereas had the same uniform order been observed in their disposition all round, there must have been many more.
"From the twenty-five gates in each side of this great square went twenty-five streets in straight lines to the gates, which were directly over against them in the other side opposite to it; so that the whole number of the streets was fifty, each fifteen miles long, whereof twenty-five went one way and twenty-five the other, directly crossing each other at right angles. And besides these there were also four half-streets, which were built but of one side, as having the wall on the other. These went round the four sides of the city next the walls, and were each of them two hundred feet broad,-the rest were about one hundred and fifty. By these streets thus crossing each other, the whole city was cut out into six hundred and seventy-six squares, each of which was four furlongs and a half on every side, that is, two miles and a quarter in compass. Round these squares on every side toward the streets stood the houses, all about three or four stories high, and beautified with all manner of adornments toward the streets. The space within the middle of each square was open ground, employed for yards, gardens, and the like.
"A branch of the river Euphrates did run quite across the city, entering in on the north side and going out on the south, over which, in the middle of the city, was a bridge of a furlong in length, and thirty feet in breadth, built with wonderful art, to supply the defect of a foundation in the bottom of the river, which was all sandy. At the two ends of the bridge were two palaces, the old palace on the east side, and the new palace on the west side of the river; the former of these took up four of the squares above mentioned, and the other nine of them; and the Temple of Belus, which stood next the old palace, took up another of these squares. The whole city stood on a large flat, or plain, in a very fat and deep soil. That part of it which was on the east side of the river was the old city; the other, on the west side, was added by Nebuchadnezzar.
"The pattern hereof seemeth to have been taken from Nineveh, that having been exactly four hundred and eighty furlongs round, as this was. For Nebuchadnezzar having in conjunction with his father destroyed that old royal seat of the Assyrian empire, resolved to make this, which he intended should succeed it in that dignity, altogether as large; only whereas Nineveh was in the form of a parallelogram, he made Babylon in that of an exact square, which figure rendered it somewhat the larger of the two. To fill this great and large city with inhabitants was the reason that Nebuchadnezzar, out of Judea and other conquered countries, carried so great a number of captives thither. And could he have made it as populous as it was great, there was no country in all the East could, better than that in which it stood, have maintained so great a number of people as must then have been in it. " But it never happened to have been fully inhabited, it not having had time enough to grow up thereto. For within twenty-five years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar the royal seat of the empire was removed from thence to Shushan by Cyrus, which did put an end to the growing glory of Babylon; for after that it never more flourished."
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