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Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The chief works expressly ascribed to Nebuchadnezzar by the ancient writers are the following. He built the great Wall of Babylon, which according to the lowest estimate must have contained more than 500,000,000 square feet of solid masonry, and must have required three or four times that number of bricks. He constructed a new and magnificent palace in the neighbourhood of the ancient residence of the kings. He made the celebrated Hanging Garden for the gratification of his wife Amytis.

The main glory of the palace of Babylon was its pleasure ground - the Hanging Gardens, which the Greeks regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The "Seven Wonders of the World" are as follows : 1. The Pyramids of Egypt. 2. The Temple, the Walls, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. 3. The Temple of Diana at Ephesus. 4. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. 5. The Pharos of Alexandria. 6. The Colossus at Rhodes. 7. The Statue of Jupiter Olympius, at Olympia. It should be noted that it was not the Hanging Gardens alone which was one of the Seven Wonders, but the Temple, the Walls, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Seven was a favorite number with the ancients. Every one will call to mind the Seven Sages of Greece, the Seven Sleepers, and numerous other sevens. Seven is used a great number of times, both in the Old and the New Testament; in Scripture it does not always stand for a definite number, but sometimes means completeness, fulness. The ancient pagan nations also held this number in very high estimation. The Pythagoreans call it the venerable number; while Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Arabians, and Persians, as well as the Israelites, made use of the week consisting of seven days. In the ancient Persian monarchy there were seven princes who acted as the counsellors of the king. Indeed, one might write as large a book on the wonders of the number seven as Philo of Byzantium wrote on the Seven Wonders.

As to the Walls and Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the statements concerning them are so much at variance, that it probably could never be known what rank they ought to take among the great works of the early ages. There is good reason for believing, however, that they might almost rank with the Great Pyramid. The great Wall of Babylon must have been much the greater part of the wonder. According to the lowest estimate it must have contained five hundred million cubic feet of solid masonry, and according to the highest estimate it must have contained many times that amount.

The great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (died BC 561), when he had completed his conquests, as he found himself in possession of treasures uncounted, and captives by tens of thousands, determined also to signalize his reign by some of the triumphs of peace, and many were the structures that showed the greatness of his power. He built a new palace of colossal dimensions, and surrounded it with a triple wall, the outer one of which was some 6even miles in circuit; he enclosed the city of Babylon with a wall, which, Herodotus says, was about three hundred and thirty-five feet high, and made the Hanging Gardens. This last work was undertaken to gratify his wife, Amyitis, a Median princess. Having passed her younger days in a mountainous region, she disliked the uniform level of the country about Babylon, and pined for the woods and hills of Media. The lofty rocks and various trees of this wonderful paradise were an attempt to imitate Median mountain scenery.

This extraordinary construction, which owed its erection to the whim of a woman, was by one account a square, each side of which measured 400 Greek feet. It was supported upon several tiers of open arches, built one over the other, like the walls of a classic theatre, and sustaining at each stage, or story, a solid platform, from which the piers of the next tier of arches rose. The building towered into the air to the height of at least seventy-five feet, and was covered at top with a great mass of earth, in which there grew not merely flowers and shrubs, but trees also of the largest size. Water was supplied from the Euphrates through pipes, and was raised (it is said) by a screw working on the principle of Archimedes. To prevent the moisture from penetrating into the brickwork and gradually destroying the building, there were interposed between the bricks and the mass of soil, first a layer of reeds mixed with bitumen, then a double layer of burnt brick cemented with gypsum, and thirdly a coating of sheet lead. The ascent to the garden was by steps. On the way up, among the arches which sustained the building, were stately apartments which must have been pleasant from their coolness. There was also a chamber within the structure containing the machinery by which the water was raised.

All was ranged in rows on the side of the ascent as well as on the top, that at a distance it appeared as an immense pyramid covered with wood. The situation of this extraordinary effort of human skill, aided by wealth, was adjoining the River Euphrates. We suppose that in the upper terrace was an engine, or kind of pump, by which the water was drawn up out of the river, and from thence the whole gardens were watered, and a supply of the pure element furnished to the fountains and reservoirs for cooling the air. In the spaces between the several arches, on which the whole structure rested, were large and magnificent apartments, very lightsome, with the advantage of possessing beautiful prospects.

The prospect from these elevated gardens must have been grand and delightful. From the upper area was obtained a view, not only of the whole city and the windings of the Euphrates, which washed the base of the superstructure three hundred feet below, but of the cultivated environs of the city, and of the surrounding desert, extending as far as the eye could reach. The different terraces and groves contained fountains, parterres, seats, and banquetingrooms, and combined the minute beauties of flowers and foliage, with masses of shade, and light open vistas; the retirement of the grove, with the vicinity of civic mirth and din; and all the splendor and luxury of Eastern magnificence in art, with the simple pleasures of verdant and beautiful nature. This surprising and laborious experiment we must certainly consider as a strain of complaisance in King Nebuchadnezzar to his Median bride, to reconcile her to the naked appearance of Babylon, and induce her to cease regretting the hills and forests she formerly delighted in, and the charms they presented to her youthful imagination. He who thought nothing impossible for his power to execute, left nothing unattempted for the gratification of his beloved consort, determined to raise even woods and hills within the precincts of a city, equal to those by which her native land was diversified.

An elevated situation in a warm climate, such as Babylonia, seems to have been an essential requisite to a royal garden; probably because the air in such regions is there more cool and salubrious-the security from hostile attack of any sort more certain- and the prospects always sublime. We are told by Diodorus Siculus, that when Semiramis came to Chanon, a city of Media, she discovered, on an elevated plain, a rock of stupendous height and of considerable extent. Here she formed another paradise, exceedingly large, inclosing a rock in the midst of it, on which she erected sumptuous buildings for pleasure, and commanding views of the plantations. The Persians and their monarchs were always very fond of gardens, and Xenophon says, "wherever King Cyrus resides, or whatever place he visits in his dominions, he takes care the paradises shall be filled with everything both beautiful and useful the soil can produce." Plutarch relates that Lysander, the Spartan general, praising the garden or paradise of the younger Cyrus at Sardis, the king avowed that he had conceived, disposed, and adjusted the whole himself, and had planted many of the trees with his own hands.

The prevailing plan of Persian gardens is that of long parallel walks, shaded by even rows of tall umbrageous planes, interspersed with every variety of fruit-trees and every kind of flowering shrub. Canals flow down the avenues in the same undeviating lines, and generally terminate in large marble basins, containing sparkling fountains. Formal as this may seem, and reverse of picturesque, the effect is amazingly grand. The number of avenues and canals form so extended a sylvan scene, that viewed from any point it appears a vast wood, with thousands of brilliant rills gh'ding among the thickets; for the Persians are not content with one fountain, but have many small low jets, to keep the whole surface of the water in agitation, and thus heighten the sparkling effects through the foliage.

The art of cultivating the soil is conjectured to have been, if not invented, much studied and improved in Egypt; but though some testimony remains of their agriculture, we possess but little guide to enable us to form any idea of their gardening. According to Herodotus, the sacred groves or gardens were often of extraordinary beauty, thus designedly corresponding with that primeval garden they were intended to represent. In times of its prosperity, Egypt is represented to have been as a delicious garden, through which a traveler might proceed from one end to the other under the shade of fruit-trees of all kinds. The vine was extensively cultivated, as Herodotus remarks, that at the festival of Bubastis more wine was consumed than in the whole year besides. In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites murmur that the place they are brought to has not the advantages of nature they left behind them in Egypt; among which figs, vines, and pomegranates are expressly enumerated.

The Old Testament makes mention of gardens belonging to Jewish princes and subjects,-that of King Solomon is the principal one on record; it is stated to have contained a variety of plants, curious as objects of natural history,-as the hyssop which springeth out of the wall; odoriferous and showy flowers,-as the rose, and the lily of the valley, the calamus, the camphire, spikenard, saffron, and cinnamon ;-timber-trees, as the cedar, the pine, and the fir;-and the richest fruits, as the fig, grape, apple, date, and pomegranate. Solomon says: "I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them, and all kind of fruits. I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees." About three miles south of Bethlehem there are three tanks or pools, yet called "the Cisterns of Solomon," which, when Maundrell visited . Palestine, he found full of water; recent travelers, however, say they are dry and in ruins, through neglect; but their state is such that they might be restored at a small expense. The source from which they were supplied is a fountain about a furlong distant. There are the remains of an aqueduct of brick pipes, which received the stream running from the pools, and carried it by many turnings and windings through the mountains to Jerusalem.

Some writers consider the existence of these celebrated gardens of Babylon as problematical, from the fact of some of the Roman historians terming them "the fabulous wonders of the Greeks". The hanging-gardens of Babylon were simply a very costly variety of the paradise, such as only princely wealth could afford.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:41:39 ZULU