Before modern technology existed, civilizations built incredible structures and sculptures that would live on in infamy. These are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
At first glance, you may be wondering why gardens are considered one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. These weren’t just any gardens, this was a series of tiered structures that supported some of the most eloquent of trees, shrubs and vines. It was considered an artificial mountain, almost a man-made forest, and to this day we still do not know the location of this ancient relic.
As their name would suggest, they were likely built in the ancient city of Babylon, which is now part of Iraq. When tracing the engineering feat of these gardens back to their time of existence, it becomes hard to find any concrete evidence of any aspect of their creation. The only aspect of these gardens that has survived over the years is that of myth, which has lead many to think that they never existed. There are rumors that these expansive gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis, which stand at the core of the myth of the gardens. I bet you’re rethinking that anniversary gift now…
For such a seemingly expansive structure of gardens, there has been no physical evidence found of the gardens. Assuming that these gardens did exist, they were likely destroyed before the 1st century A.D. Other theories around the seemingly non-existent gardens also trace back to the Gardens of Ninevah, which may be where the myth of the Gardens of Babylon began. Regardless of their existence, how exactly would these terraced gardens have been built?
The gardens would have consisted of a series of terraces that held an abundance of greenery. They were likely not “hanging” gardens per say, rather the plants likely overhung each terrace. Baked bricks and asphalt were believed to have been used for the base structure, which would have stretched nearly 100 feet in the air.
If you know anything about gardens, you know they consume a lot of water, and the same was true for the hanging gardens. Based on size estimates, the gardens would have needed a minimum of 8,200 gallons of water per day just to survive. The structure of the gardens may not sound like much of a “wonder,” but the water irrigation system devised to feed the garden certainly was.
In the 5th century B.C. when the gardens were built, there didn’t exist any sort of modern engine or pumping system. Babylon rarely ever saw rain, so engineers would have had to pump water from the nearby Euphrates river. This would have meant carrying water up hundreds of feet of elevation gradient, so engineers devised a creative solution. They built what is called a chain pump, essentially two large wheels connected by a chain. On this chain there would be buckets that would dip into the water and then transport it between wheels. This would have been the largest mechanical system of water transport in the ancient world, if it existed.
It is likely that there was a large holding pool at the top of the garden to allow for some water storage. Slaves likely ran the pumping mechanisms as well as directed the flow of water throughout the gardens. With all of this water circulating throughout the garden structure, engineers were concerned with the strength of the 400 by 400 foot solid structure. The lightly baked clay bricks the structure was built out of would have degraded quickly under constant water flow. To counteract this, it is believed that each garden basin was sealed with a layer of stone, reeds, and asphalt. Even still, the brick construction and constant water flow may be ultimately why the gardens didn’t survive.