Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 119

I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two
leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before
thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces
the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.[265]

The outer wall was the main defence of the city, but there was also an inner wall less thick but not much inferior in strength. In addition, a fortress stood in each division of the city. The king's palace and the temple of Bel Merodach were surrounded by walls.

All the main streets were perfectly straight, and each crossed the city from gate to gate, a distance of fifteen miles, half of them being interrupted by the river, which had to be ferried. As there were twenty-five gates on each side of the outer wall, the great thoroughfares numbered fifty in all, and there were six hundred and seventy-six squares, each over two miles in circumference. From Herodotus we gather that the houses were three or four stories high, suggesting that the tenement system was not unknown, and according to Q. Curtius, nearly half of the area occupied by the city was taken up by gardens within the squares.

In Greek times Babylon was famous for the hanging or terraced gardens of the "new palace", which had been erected by Nebuchadnezzar II. These occupied a square which was more than a quarter of a mile in circumference. Great stone terraces, resting on arches, rose up like a giant stairway to a height of about three hundred and fifty feet, and the whole structure was strengthened by a surrounding wall over twenty feet in thickness. So deep were the layers of mould on each terrace that fruit trees were grown amidst the plants of luxuriant foliage and the brilliant Asian flowers. Water for irrigating the gardens was raised from the river by a mechanical contrivance to a great cistern situated on the highest terrace, and it was prevented from leaking out of the soil by layers of reeds and bitumen and sheets of lead. Spacious apartments, luxuriously furnished and decorated, were constructed in the spaces between the arches and were festooned by flowering creepers. A broad stairway ascended from terrace to terrace.

The old palace stood in a square nearly four miles in circumference, and was strongly protected by three walls, which were decorated by sculptures in low relief, representing battle scenes and scenes of the chase and royal ceremonies. Winged bulls with human heads guarded the main entrance.

Another architectural feature of the city was E-sagila, the temple of Bel Merodach, known to the Greeks as "Jupiter-Belus". The high wall which enclosed it had gates of solid brass. "In the middle of the precinct", wrote Herodotus, "there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about halfway up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side. There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by anyone but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land."