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S13 Ep4

The Lost Gardens of Babylon

Premiere: 5/6/2014 | 00:00:43 | NR

This film examines a world wonder so elusive that most people have decided it must be mythical. Centuries of digging have turned up nothing — but the searchers were digging in the wrong place. Now, this film proves that the spectacular Hanging Gardens of Babylon did exist, shows where they were, what they looked like and how they were constructed.

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About the Episode

Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Garden of Babylon is the most elusive of these constructions of classical antiquity.  While traces have been found of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, centuries of digging have turned up nothing about the lost gardens of Babylon – until now.

Why, in the nearly 3,000 years since the gardens were presumably built, has no archeological evidence ever been found to support their existence? Is the Hanging Garden of Babylon a myth or a mystery to be solved?

Secret of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon, premiering Tuesday, May 6,

9-10 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), travels with Dr. Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University’s Oriental Institute and author of The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon, to one of the most dangerous places on earth, as she sets out to answer these questions and prove not only that the gardens did exist, but also identify where they most likely were located, describe what they looked like and explain how they were constructed.

According to Paul Collins of the Ashmolean Museum of Art, and featured in The Lost Gardens of Babylon, “All sources say that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were there at Babylon and so it’s been assumed that’s where they must have been.”

What if, for all of these centuries, archeologists have been searching for the gardens in the wrong place?  What if King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, believed to have built the gardens, is the wrong king?

Dr. Dalley, an expert on the ancient cuneiform texts, is one of a handful of people who can read this language which dates back to the Babylonian era.  Her translation of the cuneiform on a prism at the British Museum, leads her to an intriguing theory about the location, builder, and look of the Hanging Garden.

What did the prism reveal that caused Dr. Dalley “to reassess everything we thought we knew about the hanging garden of Babylon”? If the gardens were not built in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, then where were they built and by whom?

Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. Dalley visited a site in Iraq where she saw the beginnings of a canal system.  In the documentary, she goes back to this site and later meets with a colleague in Iraq, Jason Ur, an anthropological archaeologist from Harvard, who uses an American spy satellite program – declassified since the mid-1990s – to study landscapes. The ancient landscape under study is an area, nowhere near Babylon, ruled by a king who lived 100 years before Nebuchadnezzar.

What the satellite imagery discloses – hidden underneath fields – is a canal system with water ways, in parts the width of the Panama Canal, stretching from the Zagros Mountains that border Iran across the plains of Northern Iraq.  Does this canal system prove that the expertise to transport water existed centuries ago?  Who is the king capable of constructing such a canal system?  Could he have built the elaborately tiered Hanging Gardens?

Also, on the satellite map, Ur sees the Jerwan Aqueduct, one of the earliest known aqueducts in history.  When Dr. Dalley visits the site of this aqueduct, what evidence does she find to support her theory? What’s the connection between the aqueduct and the garden relief Dr. Dalley saw at the British Museum?

How does tracing the meaning of a word explain an engineering breakthrough that maintained the flow of water needed to keep the garden thriving? As Dr. Dalley systematically lays out her chain of evidence, the program explores whether she really found the legendary Hanging Garden of Babylon.

Secrets of the Dead The Lost Gardens of Babylon is a Bedlam Production for Channel 4 in association with ARTE, THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET and SBS Australia,  Writer and director is Nick Green.  Narrator is Jay O. Sanders. Executive producer for Bedlam Productions is Simon Eagan. Executive in charge for WNET is Stephen Segaller. Executive producer for WNET is Steve Burns.  Coordinating producer for WNET is Stephanie Carter.

This program is among the full-length episodes that will be available for viewing after broadcast on Secrets of the Dead Online ( Along with the extensive online video catalog, the series website provides resources for educators with lesson plans for middle school and high school teachers.

As one of PBS’ ongoing limited primetime series, Secrets of the Dead is a perennial favorite among viewers, routinely ranking among the 10 most-watched series on public television. Currently in its 13th season, Secrets of the Dead continues its unique brand of archaeological sleuthing employing advances in investigative techniques, forensic science and historical scholarship to offer new evidence about forgotten mysteries. Secrets of the Dead has received 10 CINE Golden Eagle Awards and six Emmy nominations, among numerous other awards.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up on 'Secrets of the Dead,' one of the ancient wonders of the world.

This is one of the engineering jewels of the Syrian empire.

ANNOUNCER: No one has ever found the hanging gardens of Babylon.

No evidence for it in the archaeological record.

ANNOUNCER: Was the garden even in Babylon?

WOMAN: We simply had the wrong place, the wrong king.

He says, 'It was a marvel for all peoples, a wonder of the world.'

ANNOUNCER: 'The Lost Gardens of Babylon,' on 'Secrets of the Dead.'

'Secre NARRATOR: Dr. Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University is preparing for a journey that could rewrite history.

DALLEY: There's always a bit of nervousness about.

But that keeps you on the qui vive, doesn't it?

So it's an adventure.

NARRATOR: She's come up with a controversial new theory that, if right, will solve one of the world's last great archaeological mysteries: the exact location of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

DALLEY: We have to reassess everything we thought we knew about the hanging garden of Babylon.

NARRATOR: In the 3,000 years since it was built, no one has found a single trace of the spectacular garden.

Well, I'm glad I've got a good pair of shoes on.

[Laughs] NARRATOR: Now Stephanie thinks she has tracked it down.

It all begins here.

NARRATOR: But to prove her theory, she will have to go to one of the most dangerous places on the planet.

[Explosion] DALLEY: We'll have good advice on it.

We'll have good security.

I mean, riding a bicycle in Oxford is quite dangerous.

[Laughs] NARRATOR: The seven wonders of the ancient world... among them, the pyramids of Giza... the lighthouse that once stood at Alexandria... the mighty colossus of Rhodes.

Today, only traces of these magnificent monuments remain, but we know the location of them all... all except one.

What little evidence does exist comes from just a few accounts written hundreds of years after the gardens were built-- by people who never saw them.

They say it was a garden where trees appeared to be suspended in the air and where water flowed against gravity.

These accounts place it in Babylon, just south of what is now modern-day Baghdad.

MAN: All our sources say that the hanging gardens of Babylon were there at Babylon, and so it's been assumed that's where they must have been.

We have lots of records from the time of Nebuchadnezzar-- his own inscriptions deposited in the foundations of his buildings.

NARRATOR: The leader of the kingdom of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar's texts have all been searched.

COLLINS: He talks about building temples, refurbishing temples, restructuring the ancient cults, but also he focuses on his great palaces he constructs at Babylon.

But in the hundreds of documents which record his building works, there's no mention of gardens at all.

NARRATOR: Hundreds of texts and not a single mention of a garden.

And despite dozens of excavations in Babylon, no one has ever found archaeological evidence of a garden-- not a single trace.

COLLINS: Nowhere in his texts or in the ground any evidence for the gardens.

No evidence for it in the archaeological record.

NARRATOR: Many scholars question whether the garden even existed at all.

But now, a new idea has turned everything we thought we knew on its head.

DALLEY: Well, it began to look as if we simply had the wrong place, the wrong king, the wrong story altogether, so why was this?

And that was the big question.

If we couldn't find the garden in Babylon when we excavated all around the palaces of Nebuchadnezzar and if we couldn't find them in the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, which were complete, either the whole story, the whole legend, was a complete fiction, or the gardens were somewhere else.

NARRATOR: Stephanie Dalley is a code breaker, one of a handful of people in the world who can read ancient cuneiform texts-- a script so obscure, researchers are only just beginning to reveal its secrets.

DALLEY: Cuneiform writing was a marvelous script, but it's very, very complicated.

It started around 3000 B.C.

and comes to an end around the time of Christ.

NARRATOR: Metaphors are at the heart of this writing.

DALLEY: It's not alphabetic, it's got hundreds of signs, and every sign has several different possible readings.

When you excavate these things, you have the opportunity of reading literature and other things that haven't been read before since at least the time of Christ.

NARRATOR: For more than 2,000 years, these ancient voices were lost; no one was able to read their words.

Things started to change when Stephanie began studying the cuneiform on a prism at the British Museum.

The prism described the life of another king named Sennacherib, who lived a hundred years before Nebuchadnezzar.

DALLEY: We're looking at an 8-sided prism from the palace of Sennacherib.

The beginning of this inscription tells you he's king of Assyria, he's king of the world, he's conquered many lands, and he gives you a rundown of his main conquests.

NARRATOR: Sennacherib lived 700 years before Christ and reigned over an empire that stretched from southern Turkey to modern-day Israel.

The prism comes from the very heart of Sennacherib's capital.

DALLEY: The whole thing would have been hidden in the wall of the palace or the foundations of the palace so that when the palace fell down eventually, people could still see what a great king Sennacherib was.

It tells you about this wonderful palace that he built, and then it tells you about the garden that he built alongside the palace.

NARRATOR: But what the prism describes sounds like something other than a typical garden.

DALLEY: On this prism Sennacherib says, 'I raise the height 'of the surroundings of the palace to be a wonder for all peoples.'

I think his description refers both to the palace and to the garden-- the two go together.

NARRATOR: Translations from the prism even suggest what Sennacherib's garden might have looked like.

DALLEY: One part of this says that 'the high garden imitating 'the Amanus Mountains I laid out next to the palace with all 'kinds of aromatic plants, orchard fruit trees, trees 'that sustained the mountains and Babylonia as well as trees that bear wool planted within it.'

Well, that's almost certainly a form of the cotton plant.

NARRATOR: The writing suggests that Sennacherib built an extravagant garden which he then filled with exotic fruit trees and plants from across his empire.

Stephanie begins to look more closely at other clues.

She's returned to the museum to see a notebook dating from the 1850s, a golden age of archeological discovery.

DALLEY: I've never seen this in the original before.

I've only seen small-scale reproductions of it, and it's wonderful to see it.

It's wonderful.

NARRATOR: This drawing is an exact representation of a stone wall carving from Sennacherib's palace.

It appears to show a great garden.

And you can see here the water draining down into little streams, from that height, and ending up in a lake at the bottom of the garden, with various sporting events going on here--the man who is swinging from a swing of some sort.

NARRATOR: But there's one detail in particular that stands out.

DALLEY: The really unusual feature in this, in these pictures, is the pillared walkway with the layers of roofing on top of the pillars and then the trees growing with their roots in those layers of roofing.

They had to have a way of sustaining big trees in this garden, right up on the citadel, and that is, I think, one of the things that makes it a really extraordinary garden.

NARRATOR: And Stephanie goes further.

She begins to look at other museum exhibits that had previously been dismissed.

Sennacherib and other great Assyrian kings lined their palace walls with bas-reliefs, huge carvings that described the world around them.

This panel, known as the garden relief, was removed from Sennacherib's capital city and brought to the British Museum.

It shows his palace complex and a garden-- trees hanging in the air on terraces... and plants suspended on arches.

But because it wasn't from Babylon, it was ignored.

DALLEY: The garden relief shows water coming along halfway up the garden on arches, and they look as if they're stone arches the way that they're shown.

And that is, I think, one of the things that makes it a really extraordinary garden--a hanging garden.

NARRATOR: It was a revelation.

The prism and relief both placed the garden in Sennacherib's capital, and Sennacherib's capital was nowhere near Babylon.

It was at Nineveh, more than 250 miles to the north.

Nineveh is now part of modern-day Mosul, one of the most dangerous places on earth.

No western archaeologist has been there since the war in Iraq began.

On average 3 to 5 terrorist attacks occur every day during Stephanie's trip.

Despite this, she thinks she has a way to gather evidence to support her theory.

She heads to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, just 50 miles from Nineveh.

Compared to the rest of the country, it's a safe and stable place, and it's an area she knows well.

DALLEY: I first came here in 1967.

We were digging in northern Iraq.

There'd been a certain amount of trouble there, as there often is, but we got through easily.

That's me there, and that one's the man who became my husband.

MAN: Your romance blossomed on this trip?

Ah, eventually.

NARRATOR: Tomorrow, from her base here in Erbil, Stephanie will begin to test her theory.

[Man chanting] NARRATOR: Conditions in Iraq make her work difficult.

In high summer, temperatures reach nearly 104 degrees.

An early start is critical.

The first step is to prove that Sennacherib had the expertise to get water to a garden in the heart of this arid country.

When Stephanie was here nearly 50 years ago, she saw the beginnings of a canal system in the mountains of Khinis.

She decides to head back to this site.

Well, we're off to see where the water starts, at the head of Sennacherib's great canal scheme.

When I came before, I thought there were many more people around.

You would see a lot of children in the villages, you'd see a lot of fruit trees, a lot of chickens, and I think now when you go through the villages, there's much less sort of family life going on.

NARRATOR: When Stephanie finally reaches the site, the sheer scale of Sennacherib's building project is revealed.

DALLEY: And there's Sennacherib.

Sennacherib is recording, in a very visual form, the greatness of what he did.

He is showing that he has inaugurated this wonderful system of water management, bringing the water all the way to Nineveh and to his hanging garden, and he's showing himself together with the great gods and that the gods support him because that's the important thing.

If the gods stop supporting the king, he's on his way out.

NARRATOR: These reliefs survived centuries, until hermits moved into the area and destroyed them.

The enormous holes became caves used as shelters, and Sennacherib has left his mark everywhere... Proud, powerful, celestial.

DALLEY: It's evident that this is his work because of this monument, and not just this one, but there are small niches with a picture of the king all the way along here.

I find it very moving that it is still here--you can still come and see it, you can go up and touch it if you wanted.

You could kiss Sennacherib's feet.

I know it's ruined.

Perhaps that adds to the romance of it, in fact.

It's a very impressive monument, and thank God it's still here.

NARRATOR: But scrambling over the site at Khinis, Stephanie stumbles onto something she's never seen before.

DALLEY: Well, it looks as if here we've got some kind of a fountain, and you can just see, very eroded, the tail of this lion, here, coming round there, and his back legs, from which he's springing off, roughly there.

4 paws, I think, there and there.

Well, the lion is the royal animal of the king, that's for a start; it's also the animal of the great goddess of Nineveh.

So on both counts it's appropriate to have this here.

NARRATOR: But she thinks this fountain was more than just ornamental.

DALLEY: Sennacherib was very concerned to look after his workmen well, and I'd just like to imagine them heaving their blocks of rock from the quarry up there and coming here to fill their water skins when they needed a rest and a drink.

A place like this is full of surprises, and if you walk around, you'll see things you haven't seen before.

Water from this river was taken and routed into a vast network of canals.

DALLEY: This is the huge rock where the water was divided in two.

We've got the mountain river coming down through the gorge over there, and it's circling round here, and at this point it's diverted half of it into the canal, and you can't see the line of the canal now because they've made a car park there.

But it would have continued past our vehicle towards the flagpole and on towards Nineveh.

Well, we're standing in a sort of key point for the whole project.

It all begins here.

NARRATOR: 2,700 years ago, this giant rock would have split the river and diverted half the water into Sennacherib's system.

The canal was perfectly engineered, dropping exactly one meter for every kilometer, to control the flow of runoff from the mountains to distant Nineveh.

This system, built hundreds of years before the Roman Empire even existed, was a staggering achievement.

DALLEY: There would have been a most enormous ceremony here when the whole system was opened up for the first time.

They would have had tremendous ceremony, and the king would have been here, and probably a great feast took place.

MAN: You sound like you you wish you would have been there.

Oh, yes. I'm hoping to meet Sennacherib one day.

[Laughs] Well, it's nice to imagine it here because you have the scenery for it and you have the occasion.

NARRATOR: 125 miles from Sennacherib's carving, the canal reemerges.

DALLEY: Well, we're coming along here to see where the canal goes.

We saw that it was covered by the car park, and now we're picking it up.

It's just come out of a tunnel, and there we see where this lovely reed bed is, where we see the extent of the canal at this point.

And now, of course, it's got reeds growing in it because the soil and dust and so on would have settled in the bottom, giving something for the reeds to grow out of, but in Sennacherib's time, we imagine clear water going along a rock-cut bottom, or maybe a pebble bottom, and then out from the source of the water.

NARRATOR: While the site at Khinis demonstrates Sennacherib's ambition, it doesn't show the scale of his canals or how it relates to Nineveh.

To see whether this canal system could be connected with Nineveh, Stephanie returns to Erbil.

Studying the canals is difficult because much of the evidence for the ancient network has been lost to modern life.

She's come here to find out about a new project that promises to reveal secrets of Sennacherib's great work.

[Speaking foreign language] DALLEY: A bit later today, we're off to see my colleague Jason Ur from Harvard, who studies in a quite different way from myself the landscape that Sennacherib inhabited, changed for forever, really.

NARRATOR: Jason Ur uses highly classified spy material to study ancient landscapes, including the area once ruled by Sennacherib.

DALLEY: We have to sort of peel back the landscape that is currently available, that we can see nowadays, and look at how it must have been in the time of Sennacherib.

UR: Well, I've used a Corona program, this American spy satellite program that started in the 1960s.

It's been declassified since the mid-nineties, and now it's available for literally anybody to use, including the people that the Americans were spying on.

It reveals fantastic details of the ancient world.

NARRATOR: This early satellite took snapshots of landscapes as they were before modern cities were built, before modern roads.

And in this part of Iraq, the landscapes have not changed for thousands of years.

UR: The inscriptions can tell us a lot.

They can tell us the thoughts of the people that wrote them, but we never must forget that those people had an agenda.

So here's where the satellite imagery comes in.

It shows us the landscape in a very objective way.

It doesn't lie.

This is an image of Nimrud.

This is one of the capital cities of the ancestors of Sennacherib.

We can see a lot of interesting things here.

This is a big, high mound that had an important palace, and then we've got the wall stretching around the city, which is very clear, can be easily seen.

But we knew about all these places.

You know, the satellite imagery here isn't telling us anything we didn't already know.

But it's in the center of the city that we learn new things.

We've known nothing about the insides of this city, but with this corona image, we can see processional ways leading from the gates into the city.

It's these dark lines going through the city, like this here.

These are ancient streets, and they are massive ancient streets.

They are 15 to 20 meters wide.

So these aren't just streets, these are processional ways.

You can imagine that there could have been 3 chariots wide going through the streets here.

It would have been very dramatic to see the king in his retinue, moving through these spaces, say, on their way into the citadel or from the citadel out to the parade grounds near the arsenal here.

This really shows the power and scope of this technique.

We wouldn't have seen any of this on the ground.

Just, it's not there. It's underneath fields.

But under the right conditions, it emerges as clear as a bell.

[Knock on door] Stephanie, how are you?

Jason, very good to see you again.

Come on in.

NARRATOR: Jason's work reveals just how big Sennacherib's canal system was.

Stretching from the Zagros Mountains that border Iran, it ran across the plains of northern Iraq all the way to Nineveh.

UR: So we're looking here at a canal that leads from the Zagros up to the north, and it directs the entire flow of this river across this watershed into this other river system.

This is not necessarily easy to see from the ground, but this image gives you a fantastic idea of just how screamingly obvious it is from a vertical perspective.

DALLEY: So on the ground, how wide would that canal be?

From top to top, it's a hundred meters wide, and it's probably about 20 meter deep.

NARRATOR: In parts, Sennacherib's waterways were the width of the Panama Canal, and they ran downhill at a precise angle across 60 miles of parched terrain.

What have you got here to get the canal from there to there?

This is one of the engineering jewels of the Assyrian empire, this canal that you can faintly trace here.

It has to go around this entire valley, but to get there, it has to cross this stream, and that's where this feature comes in.

It's a little ambiguous on the imagery, but this is an aqueduct.

This is a two-million-block stone aqueduct.

This feature carries the water from this side of the plain across this water course and then carrying on around the head of the valley, ultimately to the capital and Nineveh, and it really is a masterpiece of Assyrian engineering.

Well, it's astonishing, isn't it?

To imagine Sennacherib and his engineers seeing that whole picture without the sort of maps that we have.

DALLEY: So what we can see on those photographs is that Sennacherib and his engineers were phenomenal, that it was something quite out of the ordinary, quite magnificent in scope, design, and execution.

NARRATOR: It is clear that Sennacherib had the technology to build a huge canal network.

But did he have the engineering skills to build a terraced garden?

Stephanie decides to visit the aqueduct Jason pointed out on his satellite map.

The Jerwan aqueduct is one of the earliest known aqueducts in history.

It pre-dates anything the Romans built by 500 years.

DALLEY: Well, I'm glad I've got a good pair of shoes on.

[Laughs] It's so solid.

I mean, look at the size of those pieces of stone.

You could almost imagine a giant having to compose this.

NARRATOR: Sennachrib was so proud of his achievements, he wanted to tell the world about his work.

DALLEY: We know who built this because he wrote his name, his title, his father's name on these stones here.

It's written in cuneiform.

It goes from left to right, just like English.

He says, 'Mr. Sennacherib, the king of the world, king of the land of Assyria.'

There's no doubt at all who built this.

Not modest at all.

He wanted to make sure that his legacy lasted forever.

And it has done quite well, 2,700 years or so.

NARRATOR: But while the aqueduct has survived for nearly 3 millennia, the area around it has been too turbulent and dangerous for archaeologists to work in.

DALLEY: Well, although it's much prettier to be here in the spring, because of the spring flowers and the crops growing and so on, it's actually not very safe then because there are unexploded ordnance around on the fields just occasionally, and in this particular area there were landmines until they were cleared extremely recently, and of course those are buried mines, so there's a danger.

But I gather it's perfectly safe now, and we think it is, but over there, that was the area where there was a place with landmines, but a lot of people have been here in the last few years, actually, so sticking to this area is perfectly safe.

NARRATOR: On the other side of the aqueduct, there's a clue that sheds light on the Hanging Gardens.

DALLEY: What we've got here is the remains of an arch in this aqueduct, and I think you can see that the stones are gradually shaped in towards the center at the top, which is no longer preserved.

NARRATOR: There were 5 arches built from two million perfectly carved stone blocks.

This extraordinary structure would have supported Sennacherib's canal at a height of 30 feet above ground, and it would have been 72 feet wide.

But for Stephanie, there's something even more significant about the aqueduct... something that reminds her of the garden relief at the British Museum.

DALLEY: If we look on the drawing of it where the the thing is a bit clearer, we can see the shape of the top of those arches on the drawing.

And it's quite interesting that on this we can see that they've drawn in the stones.

NARRATOR: The arches shown on the stone panel match the design of the arches supporting the aqueduct at Jerwan.

DALLEY: We can see that this is real, and it helps us to understand that what we see here is not a bit of make-believe; they're showing what the king did in detail, and they're not fairy tale imaginary pictures at all.

They're trying very hard in two dimensions to represent something enormous that the king did in 3 dimensions.

NARRATOR: For Stephanie, the aqueduct proves the garden relief is more than just a piece of art that once decorated a palace wall at Nineveh.

It's a piece of documentary evidence.

DALLEY: We've seen the rock sculptures and the canal leading out from the mountains at Khinis, and now we've found the place where an aqueduct solves the problem of crossing the major tributary, and then we think of this whole network making its way very carefully all the way to Nineveh.

The thing is, it's not just a garden, is it?

It's a world wonder on several different counts.

This whole water works is a part of what makes the hanging garden a world wonder, and it shows the character of Sennacherib.

He's not afraid of a big project, and he has the expertise to carry it out, and it works when he's done it.

NARRATOR: Returning to Erbil, Stephanie considers what she's learned: Sennacherib did build a huge canal system that could have provided water for a large garden in Nineveh.

Now, using old archaeological surveys, she also believes she's pinpointed the location of the fabled hanging garden.

DALLEY: What we've got here is a map that was made in 1904.

We know that's a part of the palace of Sennacherib.

Now, some people think that's just about all there was, but other people think that it was much bigger than that and that it extended all the way along here.

If we think it does come along this far, that would be a good place there for the garden.

NARRATOR: Sennacherib's palace complex stretched 1,300 feet in length.

To the rear was a huge open space that Stephanie believes was the site for his garden.

DALLEY: Sennacherib's own inscription says that he raised the level of the earth beside the palace to make a garden.

NARRATOR: But there are critical details Sennacherib failed to provide.

He didn't tell us how the garden was laid out or how large it was.

Other writers living hundreds of years later claimed they knew.

DALLEY: We only know about the size of the gardens from what the Greek writers say, but one of the Greek authors, Diodorus Siculus, tells us just what the dimensions were.

He says the park extended 4 plethra on each side, and then he says that it sloped downwards on these terraces and resembled a Greek theater.

NARRATOR: A plethra is an ancient measurement.

4 plethra equals about 400 feet.

DALLEY: The way I think you can interpret this is we've got essentially a rectangle and we've got 123 meters along the top, and 123 meters along the side, and that's the dimensions that Diodorus gives.

NARRATOR: This size and shape would fit the available space alongside the palace.

DALLEY: And then he says that it resembles a theater because of these terraces rising up, so we envisage it coming like this and then the lake down at the bottom there.

So that's roughly--what it would have looked like is a large Greek or Roman amphitheatre, with a lake at the bottom.

NARRATOR: An immense, thirsty amphitheater of plants nourished by a vast canal system.

But the question remains: how did Sennacherib get water to the upper tiers of his garden, where these giant trees grew?

DALLEY: Scholars have estimated that this particular hanging garden would have needed about 300 tons of water a day, and that's an enormous amount of water.

NARRATOR: Without modern technology, lifting 300 tons of water per day by hand would have been an extremely difficult task.

DALLEY: So how are we going to get the water up there?

It's a phenomenal question as to how it was done.

NARRATOR: Stephanie was working through Sennacherib's writing when she came across a word that didn't make sense to her.

DALLEY: He says, 'In order to draw water up all day long, 'I had ropes, bronze wires, and bronze chains made, and I set up the great cylinders and alemitu over cisterns.'

He's drawing up water all day long.

This is not a bucket and chain job from a well.

But what on Earth did he mean by the alemitu?

NARRATOR: It seemed Sennacherib did find a solution to bringing water to the garden's highest tiers, but it was hidden behind the word 'alemitu.'

Stephanie was able to decipher the meaning of the word.

[Knocks on door] It's a particular type of date palm.

But what did a date palm have to do with lifting water?

...very kind of you. We saw that you had a palm tree.

NARRATOR: When she sees a date palm tree, she understands what Sennacherib was describing.

DALLEY: This tree is significant because you can see where the fronds have been cut off as the trunk has gone up.

You can see the scars from the fronds making a spiral pattern around the whole of the trunk.

NARRATOR: The spiral pattern around the trunk of the tree... resembles the shape of a screw... the kind of screw used for drawing water uphill.

Silent and able to keep a constant amount of water flowing against gravity, it would have been an engineering breakthrough.

Sennacherib was using the shape of a date palm to describe an Archimedes screw.

DALLEY: When you invent something, you've got to find words for it.

Like on your computer you have this mouse--well, you know, that could be quite perplexing in the future for people who talk about mice on desks.

Here we've got something that maybe they've already invented and they know what it looks like, but how are they going to find a word for it?

They look in nature for something that has it, too, and this is what provides them with a word that they can use for it that everybody will understand.

NARRATOR: The Archimedes screw is named after the Greek who is believed to have invented it.

But it seems Sennacherib was using it 400 years before Archimedes was even born.

DALLEY: I looked at what various writers had said about Archimedes and the water-raising screw, and they thought the screw itself was older than Archimedes, so I felt some relief at that because you don't want to go out too much on a limb.

Sennacherib solved this enormous problem of raising water from that aqueduct halfway up the garden and getting it right up to the top above the pillared walkway, and he does it with these screws.

And that is a stroke of genius, really.

NARRATOR: The focus of her investigation turns to getting access to the site at Nineveh.

Nineveh and the neighboring city of Mosul are effectively closed to westerners.

[Explosion] During Stephanie's visit, a car bomb exploded at a book market, and 47 people were killed or injured, and on average, 100 people were killed every month.

But 4 days into the trip, Stephanie and her team have found a way to see the site.

DALLEY: We've come up with a plan to send local security people with cameras, and they're going to the bit of the mound at Nineveh that we're interested in.

[Knock on door] Hello. Hello.

Do come in, please.

DALLEY: Two local men arrive and receive their instructions from Stephanie.

Shall we get straight to our map?

NARRATOR: Locals can work in Nineveh without attracting any attention.

So you'll be starting here with the roofed area.

NARRATOR: Watching footage they bring back will be Stephanie's first opportunity to study the site.

We want to look at this bit here.

NARRATOR: They will only have an hour to film at the location.

After that, using cameras around the site will make them too conspicuous, and it will become too dangerous.

You'll be coming out here.

you may have to come through a fence.

NARRATOR: They must get to the possible garden location quickly.

MAN: From the palace to this area--what do you think, I mean, about the distance from here to here?

About 400 meters. 400 meters.


And this--this is the area that we really want you to focus on, here, as much as you can of that.

DALLEY: We'll see how the land lies in the bit of Sennacherib's palace that is still recognizable, and then, above all, the bit that I'm most interested in, those contours which correspond to what we know about the hanging garden.

NARRATOR: The men set off on their two-hour drive to Nineveh.

They must pass through 4 checkpoints which are often targeted by terrorists.

They've each been given a camera and will call Stephanie when they get to the site.

MAN: How are you feeling?

DALLEY: Well, nervous.


I do hate waiting.

I'm quite an impatient person, I suppose, and also from the West, I've got in the habit of being punctual for things, so when there's any delay, I chomp at the bit, rather.

NARRATOR: Stephanie must wait anxiously for news.

She's unaware that the men have passed dangerously close to attacks on the outskirts of Nineveh.

Then, after nearly 4 hours, she receives some good news from her security advisor.

MAN: They're OK. They're inside.


MAN: So they're just waiting to start the process of filming.

OK, thanks. Good.

NARRATOR: But the clock is ticking as the two men race to film the site before they're told to leave.

[Man chanting] Eventually, they return with the footage they shot in Nineveh.

[Knock on door] So nice to see you again.

NARRATOR: Stephanie is grateful for their courage.

I thank you so much for what you've done.

MAN: We thank God that we are safe.

Well, we thank God, too.

NARRATOR: The area is an archaeological site in the center of Nineveh under the control of the Department of Antiquities.

The men enter the excavated part of the palace.

Despite millennia of damage, there's no disguising the scale.

So here we are in Sennacherib's palace.


So what's this relic?

I think that's a bit of a winged bull.

That's a hind leg, the bottom, the back of the bull.

It's quite interesting to see the stone and how--oh, yes.

Oh, there's some wonderful shell in the stone there.

Oh, look at it. Oh.

Oh, yes, these are the trees, like the ones in Sennacherib's garden according to the sculpture that we have.

NARRATOR: It shows Sennacherib's fascination with plant life and the natural world just like the carvings on the garden relief.

DALLEY: It's a mountain landscape.

When they have these sort of diamond kinds of background, that shows you're in the mountains.

So I think these might be fruit trees, but I'm not sure.

NARRATOR: The images show an ancient city in a terrible state of disrepair.

Nineveh is on the Global Heritage Fund's list of sites in danger of irreparable destruction and loss.

DALLEY: It is in a sad state, but it's still very exciting.

Those slabs that you see there-- we've lost the sculpture on the outside of them.

But still it gives you a feel for the scale of it all, doesn't it?

MAN: Yes.

DALLEY: You feel how impressive it was.

Yes, exactly.

Of course it would have been perfect.

When I went over there, I felt that I am living in another world.

DALLEY: Yes, yes.

NARRATOR: With time ticking away, they must keep moving, as there's a lot of ground to cover.

The men head toward the rear of Sennacherib's palace, getting closer to the area Stephanie thinks is the location of the garden.

It becomes quickly apparent that much of the old city is now used as farmland.

DALLEY: And they're plowing right up to the edge.

That's...Yes, well... How much is lost every year, you imagine thousands of years when this site has been eroded, damaged, looted.

People come up for picnics, they find, 'Ah, look what I've found,' and they take it home.

And you can't blame them.

Ah, but look how difficult it is to see any sort of-- to interpret any of the land.

It is so eroded.

Can you just show us where we are on the map at this moment?

Exactly there.

Exactly there?

Yeah. Great.

So you're walking towards the area that has the red circle around it.


NARRATOR: Watching as they arrive at the spot circled on the map, Stephanie is initially downhearted.

DALLEY: We know for certain he had a palace garden.

It must be somewhere here.

This seemed to me a very likely spot, but now we're here, of course, we don't see a garden--that's for sure--and we don't see ay trace of what we hoped might be visible.

NARRATOR: Then she spots something that gives her hope... the extraordinary view from the citadel overlooking the plains of northern Iraq.

It's a perfect place for a garden looking over the river.

Sennacherib tells us so in his inscription, and he says it was a marvel for all peoples-- a wonder of the world, in his own words.

NARRATOR: Stephanie can search no further.

She's seen evidence of the enormous engineering feat that brought water from the mountains... through huge canals... to a garden resembling an amphitheater nearly 70 miles away.

Stone arches carried 300 tons of water... while screws worked silently to lift the water up to the highest terraces of gardens that were built by a king to demonstrate his mastery of nature.

To Stephanie's frustration, any detailed archaeological study of this site remains impossible as long as the conflict continues.

It's just too dangerous.

For the moment, she has gotten as close as anyone can.

We have seen Sennacherib at work in his canals, in his sculptures, in his palace.

We've seen the sight of the garden... and we have seen Sennacherib had the brilliance and the expertise to make a wonder of the world.

It's been wonderful.

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