Around 225 B.C. a Greek engineer, Philo, produced a list of seven temata—“things to be seen”—that are better known today as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Pyramids at Giza; the Statue of Zeus at Olympia; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Pharos of Alexandria; and, most mysterious of all, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Many revisions of Philo’s list followed, and other sites were added and removed according to the tastes of the times. But the Philo seven have become canonical, a snapshot of the monuments whose size and engineering prowess awed the classical mind. Only the Pyramids at Giza (built in the mid-third millennium B.C.) remains intact today. Although five of the others have disappeared, or are in ruins, enough documentary and archaeological evidence is available to confirm that they once stood proud, and are not the product of hearsay or legend.
However, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, held by tradition to be the work of Babylon’s mighty King Nebuchadrezzar II (r. 605-561 B.C.), is the list’s great enigma. No clue of such gardens has come to light in ruins, or in any reference in Babylonian sources. The hunt for the gardens is one of the most tantalizing quests in Mesopotamian scholarship, and archaeologists are still puzzling out where such gardens may have been located in Babylon, or what was so special about them. They are still debating what the term “hanging” might mean, what they might have looked like, how they were irrigated—in short, whether they even existed at all.