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Before the War in Iraq
by John Harmon
April 13, 2003

iraq-main.jpg (55869 bytes)These days all you see on the news is the war in Iraq. Long before the war or the reign of "Saddam the stupid" Iraq was famous for it's civilization and it's gardens. The most famous of which and one of the Seven Wonders of the World was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). It was not until the reign of Naboplashar (625-605 BC) of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization reached its ultimate glory. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens. It is said that the Gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar to please his wife or concubine who had been "brought up in Media and had a passion for mountain surroundings". The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.

According to the best guesses of historians the gardens were on the east bank of the River Euphrates, about 50-km south of Baghdad. A Greek historian by the name of Diodorus Siculus said "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."

While the most descriptive accounts of the Gardens come from Greek historians such as Berossus and Diodorus Siculus, there is no mention of the gardens in Babylonian records. Tablets from the time of Nebuchadnezzar do not have a single reference to anything like the Hanging Gardens, although descriptions of his palace, the city of Babylon, and the walls are found.

Modern historians argue that when Alexander's soldiers reached the fertile land of Mesopotamia and saw Babylon, they were impressed. When they later returned to their rugged homeland they had stories to tell about the amazing gardens and palm trees at Mesopotamia and the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. Many historians believe it was the imagination of poets and ancient historians that blended all these elements together to produce one of the "Seven Wonders of the World".

Detailed descriptions of the Gardens come from other ancient Greek sources, including the writings of Strabo and Philo of Byzantium. Here are some excerpts from their accounts.

"The Garden is quadrangular, and each side is four plethra long. It consists of arched vaults, which are located on checkered cube-like foundations. The ascent of the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway."

"The Hanging Garden has plants cultivated above ground level, and the roots of the trees are embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth. The whole mass is supported on stone columns. Streams of water emerging from elevated sources flow down sloping channels. These waters irrigate the whole garden saturating the roots of plants and keeping the whole area moist. Hence the grass is permanently green and the leaves of trees grow firmly attached to supple branches. This is a work of art of royal luxury and its most striking feature is that the labor of cultivation is suspended above the heads of the spectators".

It must have been a grand site to see if it truly existed. I like to believe that it did even though the Hanging Gardens probably did not really "hang" in the sense of being suspended from cables or ropes. The name comes from an inexact translation 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.

You won't have near as much trouble getting water as they did in ancient Babylon. Most accounts claim the water must have been lifted from the river Euphrates in buckets on a long chain powered by slaves to the top of the structure where it flowed down watering the gardens. I wonder if that system might work to get water to my place from the Yukon River?

Because of the running water the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of only two structures built of stone in the whole of ancient Babylon. Stone was not readily available out there in the desert and had to be brought in probably on barges from the north. Most buildings of the day were built from bricks that were made of clay mixed with chopped straw and baked in the sun. The bricks were then joined with bitumen, a slimy substance, which acted as a mortar. These bricks quickly dissolved when soaked with water but in a land where rain is rare the bricks wouldn't pose a problem except for something like the gardens.

There is still considerable controversy about who built the gardens and why or if they ever really existed but if you want more information check out

You may not have such a splendid garden as the one that might have been in Iraq but at least you won't have to feed all those slaves!

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail

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