Ninety kilometers from Baghdad are the ruins of Ancient Babylon. The city ceased to exist long ago, but the ruins testify to its grandeur even today. In the 7th century BC. Babylon was the largest and richest city of the Ancient East. There were many amazing buildings in Babylon, but the most striking were the hanging gardens of the royal palace – gardens that have become a history.
The history connects the creation of the famous gardens with the name of the Assyrian queen Semiramis. Diodorus and other Greek historians relate that she built “hanging gardens” in Babylon. True, until the beginning of our century, the “hanging gardens” were considered pure fiction, and their descriptions were simply excesses of poetic fantasy. The first to contribute to this was Semiramis herself, or rather, her biography. Semiramis (Shammuramat) is a historical figure, but her life is legendary. Ctesias preserved her detailed biography, which Diodorus later repeated almost verbatim.
“In ancient times, there was the city of Ascalon in Syria, and next to it there was a deep lake, where the temple of the goddess Derketo stood.” Outwardly, this temple looked like a fish with a human head. The goddess Aphrodite was angry with Derketo for something and made her fall in love with a mere mortal youth. Then Derketo bore him a daughter and, in anger, irritated by this unequal marriage, killed the young man, and she herself hid in the lake.
The pigeons saved the girl, they warmed her with their wings, carried milk in their beaks, and when the girl grew up, they brought her cheese. The shepherds noticed gouged holes in the cheese, followed the trail of the pigeons, and found a lovely child. They took the girl and carried her to the caretaker of the royal flocks, Simmas. “He made the girl his daughter, gave her the name Semiramis, which means “dove” among the inhabitants of Syria, and raised her approximately. Her beauty surpassed all. This was the key to her future career.
During a trip to these parts, Onnes, the first royal adviser, saw Semiramis, and immediately fell in love with her. He asked Simmas for her hand in marriage and, taking her to Nineveh, made him his wife. She bore him two sons. “Since, apart from beauty, she possessed all the virtues, she had complete power over her husband: he did nothing without her, and he succeeded in everything.”
Then the war began with neighboring Bactria, and with it the dizzying career of Semiramis. King Ning went to war with a large army: “with 1,700,000 foot, 210,000 cavalry and 10,600 war chariots” But even with such large forces, the soldiers of Nineveh could not conquer the capital of Bactria. The enemy heroically repelled all the attacks of the Ninevehites, and Onnes, unable to do anything, began to be weary of the situation. Then he invited his beautiful wife to the battlefield.
“Setting out on a journey,” writes Diodorus, “she ordered a new dress to be made for herself,” which is quite natural for a woman. However, the dress was not quite ordinary: firstly, it was so elegant that it determined the fashion among the society ladies of that time; secondly, it was sewn in such a way that it was impossible to determine who was in it – a man or a woman.
Arriving at her husband, Semiramis studied the combat situation and established that the king always attacks the weakest part of the fortifications according to military tactics and common sense. But Semiramis was a woman, which means she was not burdened with military knowledge.
She called for volunteers and attacked the strongest part of the fortifications, where she guessed there were the fewest defenders. Having easily won a victory, she used the moment of surprise and forced the city to capitulate. “The king, admiring her courage, gave her a gift and began to persuade Onnes to give up Semiramis voluntarily, promising to give him his daughter Sosana as his wife. When Onnes did not want to agree, the king threatened to gouge out his eyes, for he was blind to the orders of his master.” Onnes, suffering from the king’s threats and love for his wife, eventually went insane and hanged himself. In this way, Semiramis acquired the royal title.
Leaving an obedient governor in Bactria, Nin returned to Nineveh, married Semiramis, and she bore him a son, Niniya. After the death of the king, Semiramis began to rule, although the king had a son-heir.
Semiramis never remarried, although her hand was harassed by many. And, enterprising by nature, she decided to surpass her dead royal husband. She founded a new city on the Euphrates – Babylon, with powerful walls and towers, a magnificent bridge over the Euphrates – “all this in one year.” Then she drained the swamps around the city, and in the city itself she built an amazing temple to the god Bel with a tower, “which was unusually high, and the Chaldeans watched the sunrise and sunset of the stars there, because such a structure was the most suitable for this.” She also ordered the construction of a statue of Bel, weighing 1,000 Babylonian talents (equal to about 800 Greek), erected many other temples and cities.
Under her, a convenient road was laid through the seven ridges of the Zagros chain to Lydia, a state in the west of Asia Minor. In Lydia, she built the capital Ecbatana with a beautiful royal palace, and led the water to the capital through a tunnel from distant mountain lakes. Then Semiramis started a war – the first Thirty Years’ War. She invaded the kingdom of Media, from there she went to Persia, then to Egypt, Libya, and, finally, to Ethiopia.
Everywhere Semiramis won glorious victories and acquired new slaves for her kingdom. Only in India, she was unlucky: after the first successes, she lost three-quarters of the army. True, this did not affect her firm intention to win at all costs, but once she was lightly wounded in the shoulder by an arrow. On her swift horse, Semiramis returned to Babylon. There, a heavenly sign appeared to her that she should not continue the war, and therefore, having pacified the fury caused by the impudent messages of the Indian king (he called her a lover of love adventures, but used a rougher expression), she ruled further in peace and harmony. To get the latest stories, install our app here.
Meanwhile, Ninya was bored with her inglorious life. He decided that his mother had ruled the country for too long, and organized a conspiracy against her: “with the help of one eunuch, he decided to kill her.” The queen voluntarily transferred power to her son, “then she went out onto the balcony, turned into a dove, and flew away. straight to immortality.
However, a more realistic version of her biography has also been preserved. According to the Greek writer Athenaeus from Navcratis (2nd century), Semiramis was at first “an insignificant court lady at the court of one of the Assyrian kings,” but she was “so beautiful that she won royal love with her beauty.” And soon she persuaded the king, who took her as his wife, to give her power for only five days.
Having received the rod and dressed in the royal dress, she immediately arranged a great feast, at which she won over to her side the military leaders and all the dignitaries; on the second day, she already commanded the people and noble people to give her royal honors, and threw her husband into prison. So this determined woman seized the throne and kept it until her old age, having accomplished many great deeds.
“Such are the contradictory reports of historians about Semiramis,” Diodorus concludes skeptically. To get the latest stories, install our app here.
And yet Semiramis was a real historical figure, however, we know little about her. In addition to the famous Shammuramat, we know several more “Semiramid”. Of one of them, Herodotus wrote that “she lived five human centuries before another Babylonian queen, Nitocris” (that is, about 750 BC). Other historians call Semiramis Atossa, the daughter and co-ruler of King Beloch, who ruled at the end of the 8th century BC. e.
However, the famous “hanging gardens” were not created by Semiramis and not even during her reign, but later, in honor of another – non-legendary – woman. They were built by order of King Nebuchadnezzar for his beloved wife Amitis, a Median princess who, in dusty Babylon, yearned for the green hills of Media.
This king, who destroyed city after city and even entire states, built a lot in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar turned the capital into an impregnable stronghold and surrounded himself with luxury, unparalleled even in those days.
Nebuchadnezzar built his palace on an artificially created platform, raised to the height of a four-tier structure. Hanging gardens were laid out in the northeastern part of the palace, on bulk terraces resting on vaults. The vaults were supported by powerful high columns located inside each floor.
The platforms of the terraces were a complex structure – at their base lay massive stone slabs with a layer of reeds covered with asphalt. Then came a double row of bricks connected with gypsum, even higher – lead plates to retain water. The terrace itself was covered with a thick layer of fertile earth, in which large trees could take root. The floors of the gardens rose in ledges and were connected by wide, sloping stairs covered with pink and white stone. The height of the floors reached almost 28 meters and gave enough light for the plants.
Ox-drawn carts brought to Babylon trees wrapped in damp matting, seeds of rare herbs, flowers, and bushes. And trees of the most amazing species and beautiful flowers blossomed in extraordinary gardens. Day and night, hundreds of slaves turned the lifting wheel with leather buckets, supplying water from the Euphrates to the gardens. To get the latest stories, install our app here.
Magnificent gardens with rare trees, fragrant flowers and coolness in sultry Babylonia were truly a wonder of the world. But during the Persian domination, the palace of Nebuchadnezzar fell into disrepair. It had 172 rooms (a total area of 52,000 square meters), decorated and furnished with truly oriental luxury.
Now, Persian kings occasionally stopped in it during their “inspection” trips around their vast empire. But in the IV century, this palace became the residence of Alexander the Great. The throne room of the palace and the chambers of the lower tier of the hanging gardens were the last place of stay on earth of the great commander, who spent 16 years in continuous wars and campaigns and did not lose a single battle. The person who unearthed the Hanging Gardens was the German scientist Robert Koldewey. He was born in 1855 in Germany, studied in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna, where he studied architecture, archeology, and art history. Until the age of thirty, he managed to take part in excavations in Assos and on the island of Lesvos. In 1887 he excavated in Babylonia, later in Syria, southern Italy, in Sicily, then again in Syria.
Koldevey was an extraordinary person, and compared to his colleagues in the profession, he was also an unusual scientist. Love for archeology, a science that, according to the publications of some experts, may seem boring, did not prevent him from studying countries, observing people, seeing everything, noticing everything, reacting to everything. Among other things, Koldewey the architect, had one passion: his favorite pastime was the history of sewers Architect, poet, archaeologist, and historian dealing with sewer issues – such a rare combination! And it was this man that the Berlin Museum sent to excavate in Babylon. And it was he who found the famous “hanging gardens”!
Once, during excavations, Koldewey came across some vaults. They were under a five-meter layer of clay and rubble on the Qasr hill, which hid the ruins of the southern fortress and the royal palace. He continued excavations, hoping to find a cellar under the arches, although it seemed strange to him that the cellar would be under the roofs of neighboring buildings. But he did not find any side walls: the shovels of the workers tore off only the pillars on which these vaults rested. The pillars were made of stone, and stone was a rarity in Mesopotamian architecture. And, finally, Koldewey discovered traces of a deep stone well, but a well with a strange three-stage spiral shaft. The arch was lined not only with brick, but also with stone.
The combination of all the details made it possible to see in this structure an extremely successful design for that time (both in terms of technology and architecture); Apparently, this building was intended for very special purposes.
And suddenly it dawned on Koldeveya! In all the literature about Babylon, starting with ancient authors (Josephus Flavius, Diodorus, Ctesias, Strabo, and others) and ending with cuneiform tablets, everywhere where it was a question of the “sinful city”, there were only two references to the use of stone in Babylon, and this was especially emphasized: during the construction of the northern wall of the Kasr region and during the construction of the “hanging gardens” of Babylon. To get the latest stories, install our app here.
Koldewei re-read the ancient sources. He weighed every phrase, every line, every word, he even ventured into the alien area of comparative linguistics. In the end, he came to the conclusion that the structure found could not be anything other than the vault of the basement of the evergreen “hanging gardens” of Babylon, inside of which there was an amazing plumbing system for those times.
But there was no more miracle: the hanging gardens were destroyed by the floods of the Euphrates, which rises 3–4 meters during floods. And now we can imagine them only according to the descriptions of ancient authors and with the help of our own imagination.
Even in the last century, the German traveler, a member of many honorable scientific societies, I. Pfeifer, in her travel notes, described that she saw “on the ruins of El Kasra one forgotten tree from the cone-bearing family, completely unknown in these parts. The Arabs call it atal and revere it sacred. The most amazing stories are told about this tree (as if it were left from the “hanging gardens”), and they assure that they heard sad, plaintive sounds in its branches when a strong wind blows. To get the latest stories, install our app here.