Now that we can pick out the eye-witness accounts, and we know how to navigate the truth hierarchies that shaped the written traditions about the hanging gardens, we can get a whole lot more out of people's attempts to reconstruct the gardens.
We can see those truth hierarchies shaping every attempt to build a visual image of the gardens, just as they shaped every attempt to identify the most accurate description.
For example, take a look at the earliest known picture of the hanging gardens by the Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) at the height of the Renaissance in Europe. Look how the artist seeks to reconcile the two directly relevant traditions by including all he can and tacitly ignoring the rest:
Now check out the reconstruction by Athanasius Kircher (1679) at the height of the Baroque period. He, too, seeks to reconcile the directly relevant traditions, and to do so in more detail:
A very learned reconstruction, this one, that pushed the implications to the limit.
This next one is difficult to see, but worth the effort. It is by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1725) now into the NeoClassical period. Again, the stakes have been raised. This time we see the gardens utterly integrated with the city as described by Herodotus, and he also gives a courteous not to Kircher's contribution. Let's summarize this:
From a modern western point of view, the problem with all these reconstructions is the attempt to maintain the truth hierarchies - not only for the textual descriptions, but also for the artistic tradition. None of these is an accurate reconstruction from our point of view, although each is an improvement on the last from a Classical point of view.
Now lets see what the "modern" approach can do. By the time Frantisek Kupka was commissioned to make his reconstruction in 1908, sceptical science had gained such a hold on western culture that no one believed in a truth that could not be proved. So the hanging gardens and many other classical truths lost all credibility. Trumbull Stickney had written his regretful poem, and Gibbon had denounced Herodotus as a liar who never went to Babylon at all.
That left the long-neglected Berossus in possession of the field and he made a triumphal re-entry. Now his romantic attribution story and his evocative description of artificial "knolls" were grafted onto Herodotus' description of the Tower of Babel (which no one believed any more either). Of the rest, all that survived were the most picturesque options. Check them out - Kupka, Brendon and Krystek share these features:
As we can see, neither the truth hierarchists nor the modern fantasists are likely to have produced a reliable description. But, of the two, I would suggest that if we stripped the Renaissance style from the truth hierarchists' designs, we'd get closer to the truth than any modern fantasist has taken us - but the fantasists weren't really looking for the truth, where they?
At all events, we can definitively rule out that very attractive ziggurat-like structure. Herodotus was not a fool, nor was he a liar. He preserved a tactful silence about the hanging gardens, and he drew attention instead to the city walls and the Tower of Babel - whose existence has since been proved by archaological evidence, and yes, it was a ziggurat.
If we therefore return to Ctesias, we are left with a square enclosure - probably an inclined square, with parallel terraces rising to a height of 75 feet. These were supported on vaulted galleries - whose vaults may have been round or pointed - and there were appartments in the galleries. If each supporting gallery was about 9 feet in height, there would have been about 7 or 8 terraces. Trees were planted on more than one level. All this is remarkably similar to an 11th or 13th century hanging garden, Bagh - i Takht, at Shiraz, Iran (Persia).
As for Philo's water fountains and sloping streams, we cannot make a strong decision. The description is inherently plausible, though, and contradicts none of the eye witnesses, so we may as well believe it as not.
Introduction Getting Started Listing the Sources The Eye Witnesses The Descriptions The Relief Herodotus Ctesias Clitarchus Berossus Philo Diodorus Strabo Quintus Curtius Problem 1: The Garden Creators Problem 2: A Matter of Truth A Real Hanging Garden History of Disbelief Visual Reconstructions Conclusions