the portals was the northern Ishtar Gate, dedicated to the queen of heaven: a defensible turreted building with double towers and a barbican, faced with blue glazed brick and richly ornamented with 500 bulls, dragons, and other animals in colored brick relief.

Through the Ishtar Gate passed the north-south processional way, which ran past the royal palace and was used in the New Year festival. It was paved with limestone slabs, about 3.5 feet (1 meter) square; the flanking footpaths were of breccia stones about 2 feet (600 millimeters) square. Joints were beveled and the gaps filled with asphalt. The road was contained by 27-foot-thick (8-meter) turreted walls, behind which citadels were strategically placed. The faces of the walls were decorated with lions in low relief. Much of the significance of the road lies in the exotic and doubtless expensive materials employed. The land between the rivers had little naturally occurring stone, and except for their faces, the city walls and gatehouses and even the king’s palace were constructed of sun-dried brick.

Inside the Ishtar Gate, at the northwest corner of the old city, stood Nebuchadnezzar’s extensive palace with its huge throne room, and the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is more likely that they were “overhanging” gardens. Described by one first century b.c. visitor as “vaulted terraces raised one above another,” they were irrigated with water pumped from the Euphrates. Another early description says that this 400-foot-square (122-meter) artificial mountain was more than 80 feet (25 meters) high and built of stone. It was planted with all manner of vegetation, including large trees. There is a romantic legend that the Hanging Gardens were built for Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, Amytis, a Mede who missed the green mountains of her motherland. Beside the palace stood the rebuilt temple of the city’s patron god, Marduk, replete with gold ornament. In a sacred precinct north of the temple stood a seven-story ziggurat (stepped pyramid); some descriptions put its height at 300 feet (90 meters).

Nebuchadnezzar was Babylon’s last great ruler. Because his successors were comparatively weak, the Neo-Babylonian Empire quickly passed. In 539 b.c. the Persian Cyrus II took the city by stealth, over-threw Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar, and subsumed Babylon into his empire. The city became the official residence of the crown prince, but following a revolt in 482 b.c., Xerxes I demolished the temples and ziggurat, thoroughly destroying the statue of Marduk. Alexander the Great captured the city in 330 b.c. but he died before be could carry out his intention to refurbish it as the capital of his empire. For a few years after 312 b.c., the Seleucid dynasty used Babylon as a capital until the seat of government was moved (with most of the population) to the new city of Seleucia on the Tigris. Babylon the Great became insignificant, and by the foundation of Islam in the seventh century a.d., it had almost disappeared.

Now Babylon is being rebuilt. In April 1989 the New York Times International reported that, under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, “walls of yellow brick, 40 feet [12 meters] high and topped with pointed crenellations, have replaced the mounds that once marked [Nebuchadnezzar’s] Palace foundations. And as Babylon’s walls rise again, the builders insert inscribed bricks recording how [it] was ‘rebuilt in the era of the leader Saddam Hussein.’” An annual International Babylon Festival—one was subtitled “From Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam Hussein”—is part of the megalomaniac dictator’s projection of himself as the ancient king’s successor. Portraits of the two hang side by side on a restored wall in Babylon.

See also

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Further reading

Reade, Julian. 1991. Mesopotamia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Saggs, Henry William Frederick. 1988. The Greatness That Was Babylon. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Service, Pamela F. 1998. Ancient Mesopotamia. New York: Benchmark Books.

Banaue rice terraces

Ifugao Province, Philippines

In the Banaue municipality of the northern Ifugao Province on the Philippine island of Luzon, the indigenous Igorot people have constructed 49,500 acres (20,000 hectares) of agricultural land upon the inhospitable