Stephanie Dalley
Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Landscape Design
8.5 x 5.4 inches, hardcover, 352 pages, 90 illustrations, 8 color plates
ISBN: 9780199662265
Suggested Retail Price: $34.95

Recognized in ancient times as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the legendary Hanging Garden of Babylon and its location remain to this day a mystery steeped in shadow and puzzling myths. Now offering a brilliant solution to a question that has challenged archeologists for centuries, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon is an exciting story of detection as well as a lavishly illustrated and vividly written description of a little-known civilization.

In this remarkable volume, Stephanie Dalley, a world expert on ancient Babylonian language, gathers in one place for the first time all the material on this enigmatic wonder. Tracing the history of the Garden, Dalley describes how deciphering an ancient Assyrian text--and comparing it to sculpture in the British Museum--provided the clues that enabled her to pin down where the Garden was positioned (it was not the Babylon we know today) and to describe in detail what it may have looked like. The author also offers a groundbreaking description of the technology behind the Hanging Garden's water supply, highlighting a very early occurrence of the "water-raising screw." And through her dramatic and fascinating reconstruction of the Garden, Dalley is also able to follow its influence on later garden design.

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Diana Balmori

This is a notable book. After decades of doubt about the very existence of Babylon’s hanging garden, this extremely interesting and solidly researched work takes us step by step along the circuitous route that led historical sources astray to the wrong site or the wrong attribution.

First, Dalley asks why, while the existence of six of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World had been proven, this one had been consigned to myth. With this intriguing question, she begins her long search for clues to solve this mystery.

In a good mystery, it is anathema to disclose the final discovery prematurely. But although I do not want to spoil this mystery for its new readers, I cannot help saying that the two major discoveries—first, that the garden was not built in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar or Semiramis, but in Nineveh, in Assyria, by Sennacherib in 700 BC; and second, that it was built not on the Euphrates River, but on the Tigris—resulted in searches in the wrong places. The reasons that the names became confused is one of the most interesting parts of the story and the crux of the mystery.

Once the information is applied to the new site, the data and archaeology begin to fall into place. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it is possible to actually find the hanging garden by conducting an archeological dig at the new site; many cities succeeded one another on top of Sennacherib’s palace and garden. But significant elements remain, including both the elaborate complex that brought water to the palace and irrigated the garden, as well as some of the sculpted structures in important areas of the waterworks. As the author points out, this water system is an integral part of what made the garden one of the Seven Wonders.

The book is full of major surprises, such as that—several centuries before Archimedes was born—bronze Archimedean screws served to raise water to the top of the terraced garden. Learning about the water engineering is in itself a reason to read this book, particularly in an age in which water engineering has become a priority in cities menaced by rising seas.

Dalley’s descriptions of the terraced garden, the collection of plants from many distant places, the semicircular plan that later Greek writers described as similar to their amphitheaters, the shaded columned walk that connected the upper level of the garden with the palace, and finally the two bronze Archimedean screws carrying water to the top of the garden, all provide a picture of delight.

For the first time, we are on solid ground with regard to where the hanging garden stood. New discoveries will perhaps lead to some changes here and there in our knowledge, but they can only add richness to this superb discovery.

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