BABYLON THE GREAT
“The Hanging Garden of Babylon”
1. Sunset in Babylon
Sunset in Babylon By Raphael Lacoste
Babylon: Ancient Middle Eastern city. The city’s ruins are located about 55 mi (89 km) south of Baghdad, near the modern city of Al-Hillah, Iraq. Babylon was one of the most famous cities in antiquity. Probably first settled in the 3rd millennium BC, it came under the rule of the Amorite kings around 2000 BC. It became the capital of Babylonia and was the chief commercial city of the Tigris and Euphrates river system. Destroyed by Sennacherib in 689 BC, it was later rebuilt. It attained its greatest glory as capital of the Neo-Babylonian empire under Nebuchadrezzar II (r. 605 – c. 561 BC). Alexander the Great, who took the city in 331 BC, died there. Evidence of its topography comes from excavations, cuneiform texts, and descriptions by the Greek historian Herodotus. Most of the ruins are from the city built by Nebuchadrezzar. The largest city in the world at the time, it contained many temples, including the great temple of Marduk with its associated ziggurat, which was apparently the basis for the story of the Tower of Babel. The Hanging Gardens, a simulated hill of vegetation-clad terracing, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
2. Ziggurat – Tower of Babel
Babylon was one of a number of cities built by a succession of peoples that lived on the plain starting around 5,500 years ago. There developed a tradition in each city of building a temple in the shape of a stepped pyramid. These temples, or ziggurats, most likely honored a particular god. The people of Mesopotamia believed in many gods and often a city might have several ziggurats. Over time Babylon became the most influential city on the plain and its ziggurat, honoring the god Marduk, was built, destroyed and rebuilt until it was the tallest tower.
The Tower of Babel (Heb.Bãbhel, from Assyro-Babylonian bãb-ili, “gate of God”), was, according to the Old Testament (see Gen. 11:1-9), a tower erected on the plain of Shinar in Babylonia by descendants of Noah. Nimrod’s name is from the verb “let us revolt.” He is said to be a mighty hunter (gibbor tsayidh) in the sight of the Lord, but the language has a dark meaning. He becomes a tyrant or despot leading an organized rebellion against the rule of Yahweh. He hunts not animals, but rather the souls of men. The builders intended the tower to reach to heaven; their presumption, however, angered Jehovah, who interrupted construction by causing among them a previously unknown confusion of languages. He then scattered these people, speaking different languages, over the face of the earth.
The story possibly was inspired by the fall of the famous temple-tower of Etemenanki, later restored by King Nabopolassar (r. 626-605 BC) and his son Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. The Genesis account appears to play on the Babylonian word bã b-ili (“gate of God”) and on the Hebrew words Bã bhel (“Babylon”) and bã lãl (“to confuse”). The English words babel and babble are derived from the story.
The ruins of an immense Babylonian ziggurat, or stepped pyramid, have been found near this fabled location and the romantic notion is that these remains are all that is left of the Tower Of Babel. Archaeologists examining the remains of the city of Babylon have found what appears to be the foundation of the tower: a square of earthen embankments some 300 feet on each side. The tower’s most splendid incarnation was probably under King Nebuchadnezzar II who lived from 605-562 BC. The King rebuilt the tower to stand 295 feet high. According to an inscription made by the King the tower was constructed of “baked brick enameled in brilliant blue.” The terraces of the tower may have also been planted with flowers and trees.
Constructing ziggurats on the Mesopotamian plain was not easy. The area lacks the stone deposits the Egyptians used effectively for their timeless monuments. The wood available is mostly palm, not the best for construction, so the people used what they had in abundance: mud and straw. The bulk of the towers were constructed of crude bricks made by mixing chopped straw with clay and pouring the results into molds. After the bricks were allowed to bake in the sun they were joined in construction by using bitumen, a slimy material imported from the Iranian plateau.
Ruined City of Babylon– New age aerial view
An aerial view of Babylon.
An aerial view of Babylon showing the reconstructed Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, with adjacent helipad (at the top, between the palace and the lake) and trailers for military housing (PHOTO Martin Bailey January 25, 2005)
Some 90 kilometres to the south of modern Bagdhad lie the ruins of ancient Babylon, the original name of which, “bab-ili”, may be translated as “the Gate of the Gods”. For the world at large Babylon ranks as one of the most famous cities of antiquity, renowned alike for its refinement, beauty and magnificence. As a centre of culture and government it flourished for about fifteen centuries, from the arrival of the Amorites ca. 1850 B.C. down to Alexander the Great, who died there in 322 B.C. One of the best known of the city’s early rulers was the great law-giver, Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.).
In classical times the city walls of Babylon were spoken of with admiration and astonishment, while her “Hanging Gardens” were accounted one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-563 B.C.) Babylon was extensively re-built on an altogether magnificent scale, the city becoming at this period both the most beautiful and the most prosperous of the ancient world. Bisected from north to south by the river Euphrates, the city was surrounded by a moat and by two massive walls, the outer being about 16 kilometres in length, the inner about 8 kilometres. Within the inner city wall were brick- and bitumen-paved Thoroughfares and imposing buildings, of which numerous traces and ruins may still be seen by the visitor today. In particular there is part of Babylon’s great Procession Street which passes through the Ishtar Gate and on towards the site of the city’s huge staged temple tower or “Ziggurat”. On one side of the Procession Street are the ruins of the South Palace (300 x 190 metres) amongst which are to be found those of the famous “Hanging Gardens” mentioned above. To the north of the South Palace are the ruins of the Principal Gate, the broken walls of which consist of baked bricks laid with gypsum mortar. Also within the circuit of the inner wall and surrounded by residential buildings are the temples of Marduk, Ishtar, Gula and Ninurta.
For the past two thousand years the ancient buildings of Babylon have been extensively quarried for their excellent baked bricks. Thus, what survives today is generally only the lower courses of the walls or simply their foundations. Moreover, what survives is threatened by salt and the high local water table. Action is urgentls required to rescue these ruins.
Fotunately there already exist plans and reconstructed drawings on many of Babylon’s principal buildings, even some of which little now remains but their foundations. These plans and drawings were made by German archaeologists who dedicated some seventeen years to the excavation of Babylon before the First World War.
As the product of fifteen centuries of human toil and endeavour Babylon belongs to all people and to all nations. Visitors from all over the world are anxious that something should be done to further the restorations and reconstruction of babylon’s principal buildings, so that the city’s former grandeur may be better appreciated. It is appropriate, we feel, that all countries should assist in this work, not only in recognition of Babylons’ great place in history, but also in recognition of her great cultural importance for everyone.
4.Reconstruction of Babylon’s center in a museum in Berlin.
The Greek Historian
“Babylon, too, lies in a plain; and the circuit of its wall is three hundred and eighty-five stadia. The thickness of its wall is thirty-two feet; the height thereof between the towers is fifty cubits; that of the towers is sixty cubits; and the passage on top of the wall is such that four-horse chariots can easily pass one another; and it is on this account that this and the hanging garden are called one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The garden is quadrangular in shape, and each side is four plethra in length. It consists of arched vaults, which are situated, one after another, on checkered, cube-like foundations. The checkered foundations, which are hollowed out, are covered so deep with earth that they admit of the largest of trees, having been constructed of baked brick and asphalt — the foundations themselves and the vaults and the arches. The ascent to the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway; and alongside these stairs there were screws, through which the water was continually conducted up into the garden from the Euphrates by those appointed for this purpose. For the river, a stadium in width, flows through the middle of the city; and the garden is on the bank of the river
5.Ishtar Gate. (Original)
The Ishtar Pergamon Museum. (Original)