Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Since I was a kid I have been fascinated by history. The people…the places. The lessons we’ve learned; or haven’t as is often the case. I first developed an interest in the Seven Wonders about twenty years ago. It was amazing to me that such early and “uncivilized” cultures were able to produce monuments of such grandeur and importance.

Aside from their enormity, what made these particular monuments so impressive that they deserved special designation on this exclusive list? The truth is far less romantic than one might hope. Because of the vast area of the world conquered by the ancient Greeks, travelers now had the opportunity to visit places that had been mostly unreachable. The generally accepted list of wonders was compiled by Philo of Byzantium in the 1st or 2nd centuries AD in an attempt to create, in essence, a travel guide. It was not intended to offer special significance to these monuments but rather offer sight-seeing tips to would-be tourists.

When I first became interested in the monuments I immediately thought that it would be an interesting challenge to write music inspired by them. However, they pose a real challenge in that you can’t visit them. The only one of the wonders still standing was also the first built — the Great Pyramid of Giza. My only option was to close my eyes and attempt to imagine what standing in the incredible presence of these structures may have felt like. 

The first piece I wrote was for the most mysterious of the monuments — the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The gardens are the most mysterious in that there is real debate over if they even existed at all. The locations of the six other monuments are known; the Hanging Gardens are not. To further complicate matters, the writings that exist about the gardens are from Greek visitors. No known writing about the gardens by Babylonian authors exist.

The gardens were reportedly built around 600BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift to his wife, Queen Amytis. Hailing from a much greener Persia, Amytis was homesick for the greenery and Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Garden to appease her woes. Despite the image conjured by the name, the Hanging Gardens were not likely really hanging but, rather, a tiered structure of cascading planters. From a distance, it is said that the gardens appeared like a giant green mountain. 

The size of the gardens must have been impressive to have gained inclusion on Philo’s list. Babylon is well known for it’s impressive walls surrounding the city; for the gardens to make the list instead of the walls they must have been a sight to behold. However, in addition to their size, they would have had to have been an engineering marvel to be able to keep the plants watered in such an arid zone. It is likely that a plumbing system would have been built to supply the gardens with water from the nearby Tigris river.

When writing the tune "Hanging Gardens", I wanted to capture the same sense of awe a visitor to the city of Babylon may have had when first seeing the giant tiered structure. The cascading motif used throughout the melody is intended to represent the tiers while the harmony provides for an open, almost regal, feeling. After the introduction the idea plays on the fact that the appearance of the gardens would have changed greatly depending on the angle or distance it was viewed. From a distance, a giant green mountain; from much closer, a visitor would witness huge marble columns with individual plants cascading from the sides. The motif in Hanging Gardens regularly appears over different colors and harmonies to demonstrate the same effect. Rhythmically, the song moves things around to create a notion of instability that, I feel, goes well with the unanswered questions surrounding the gardens themselves.