THE POETRY OF GARDENS
Legend has it that more than 2,500 years ago, the mysterious city of Babylon hid one of the wonders of ancient antiquity. It was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The city was surrounded by an arid terrain for hundreds of miles, so the idea of a lush terrace with running water growing in the middle of the desert was doubted by scholars, as to have only existed in the minds of romantic storytellers. It doesn’t help when fragments of the ancient metropolis survived the battering of time, but no definitive archaeological evidence could ever prove the whereabouts of the famous paradise. Nevertheless, according to legend King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon built the oasis for his wife, who was homesick and longed for her lush mountainous land in Media. It is described as a mammoth platform, the size of an amphitheatre, raised from the ground on massive stone pillars. How it was possible to build a terraced superstructure on a flat alluvial plain in an area with little stone, remains one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world.
However, a vast array of exotic plants and fruits were displayed on multiple terraces, sitting one on top of the other, to emulate the effect of a sloping hillside. The sheer size of the garden was not the issue here, but how water was channelled from the river up to the terraces to irrigate the trees and keep them alive. This posed the biggest challenge, even for today’s hydraulic engineers. But day on day, thousands of gallons of water found their way up from the banks of the Euphrates, to the suspended platforms to feed the blooming flora. The Mesopotamians were well known as brilliant horticulturists and experienced farmers. They were also clever engineers, who are credited with inventing the most advanced irrigation systems in the ancient world. Trees with a vast array of plants have been growing there for many years, and their benefits were exploited in medicine as well as the perfume industry. Hence, the Babylonians grew up with an immense knowledge of gardening and an appreciation for the profession.
They learnt to cultivate their gardens with the same passion and intensity, the Persians learnt to recite their famous poetic verses. And for thousands of years, therefore, the perception of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon both in the East and the West, was highly idolised. It conjured images of a well-manicured sanctuary, with deep shades of green mixed with the bright colours of citrus fruit trees. This is a garden which is created with the mountainous landscape of Media in the backdrop, using a palette of bright colours and fragrant flowers. The intention is to seduce nature lovers into a labyrinth of sun-drenched terraces, cascading pools and a succession of indoor and outdoor spaces, that flow seamlessly into each other. Cypress trees and palms provided shady alcoves, where dwellers sat and listened to the melodic sound of birdsongs or stole moments of contemplation. Walking up the massive staircases from one level to the other, led to beds of a thousand flowers; roses, lilies, tulips and irises. Up at the very top, the unsuspecting guests of the royal court, would be greeted by panoramic views of the city and its infinite landscape. The whole experience emulates the feeling of reaching heaven, as their journey on earth comes to an end.
[Painting Above: A Quiet Moment | Pierre Outin, (French 1840 -1899)]