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The Hanging Garden of Babylon

Discover Iraq

The ancient city of Babylon, located east of the Euphrates River near present-day Baghdad, developed in stages and reached its peak of expansion during the Neo-Babylonian dynasty under Nebuchadnezzar II. The city was the capital of a kingdom encompassing a large part of southwest Asia and was the largest city in the known world.

More About Hanging Garden : Babylon Introduction : Early History : Babylon History : Topography : Babylonia Period





After ruling for about a century and a half, the Akkadian Empire fell to the nomadic Guti, who did not centralize their power. This enabled the Sumerian cities of Uruk, Ur, and Lagash to reestablish themselves, leading to a Neo-Sumerian age, also known as the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (about 2112-2004 bc). Imposing religious monuments made of baked and unbaked brick and incorporating ziggurats were built at Ur, Eridu, Nippur, and Uruk. Gudea (2144?-2124? bc), a ruler of Lagash, partly contemporary with Ur-Nammu, the founder of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, is known from more than 20 statutes of himself in hard black stone, dolomite and diorite. His hands are clasped in the old Sumerian style, but the rounded face and slight musculature in the arms and shoulders show the sculptor's will to depict form in this difficult medium with more naturalism than had his predecessors. Other sculptures and reliefs are quite static, except those that depict hybrid figures combining human and animal features. The most lively are small terra-cotta plaques and figurinesóworshipers holding animal sacrifices, legendary heroes, musicians, and even a woman nursing a baby.


Old Babylonian Period with the decline of the Sumerians, the land was once more united by Semitic rulers (about 2000-1600 bc), the most important of whom was Hammurabi of Babylon. The relief figure of the king on his famous law code (first half of the 18th century bc, Louvre) is not much different from the Gudea statues (even though his hands are unclasped), nor is he depicted with an intermediary before the sun god Shamash. The most original art of the Babylonian period came from Mari and includes temples and a palace, sculptures, metalwork, and wall painting. As in much of Mesopotamian art, the animals are more lifelike than the human figures. Small plaques from Mari and other sites depict musicians, boxers, a carpenter, and peasants in scenes from everyday life. These are far more realistic than formal royal and religious art.


(626-539 bc). The Babylonians, in coalition with the Medes and Scythians, defeated the Assyrians in 612 bc and sacked Nimrud and Nineveh. They did not establish a new style or iconography. Boundary stones depict old presentation scenes or the images of kings with symbols of the gods. Neo-Babylonian creativity manifested itself architecturally at Babylon, the capital. This huge city, destroyed (689 bc) by the Assyrian Sennacherib, was restored by Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar II. Divided by the Euphrates, it took 88 years to build and was surrounded by outer and inner walls. Its central feature was Esagila, the temple of Marduk, with its associated seven-story ziggurat Etemenanki, popularly known later as the Tower of Babel. The ziggurat reached 91 m (300 ft) in height and had at the uppermost stage a temple (a shrine) built of sun-dried bricks and faced with baked bricks. From the temple of Marduk northward passed the processional way, its wall decorated with enamelled lions. Passing through the Ishtar Gate, it led to a small temple outside the city, where ceremonies for the New Year Festival were held. West of the Ishtar Gate were two palace complexes; east of the processional way lay, since the times of Hammurabi, a residential area. Like its famous Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, little of the city remains. The Ishtar Gate (575? bc) is one of the few surviving structures. The glazed-brick facade of the gate and the processional way that led up to it were excavated by German archaeologists and taken to Berlin, where the monument was reconstructed. The large complex, some 30 m (about 100 ft) long, is on display in the city's Vorderasiatische Museum. On the site of ancient Babylon, restoration of an earlier version of the Ishtar Gate, the processional way, and the palace complex, all constructed of unglazed brick, has been undertaken by the Iraq Department of Antiquities.

Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 bc), the last Babylonian king, rebuilt the old Sumerian capital of Ur, including the ziggurat of Nanna, rival to the ziggurat Etemenanki at Babylon. It survived well and its facing of brick has recently been restored. 

In 539 bc the Neo-Babylonian kingdom fell to the Persian Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. Mesopotamia beame part of the Persian Empire, and a royal palace was built at Babylon, which was made one of the empire's administrative capitals. Among the remains from Babylon of the time of Alexander the Great, the conqueror of the Persian Empire, is a theater he built at the site known now as Humra. The brilliance of Babylon was ended about 250 bc when the inhabitants of Babylon moved to Seleucia, built by Alexander's successors.


More About Hanging Garden : Babylon Introduction : Babylon Early History : Babylon History : Topography : Babylonia Period