Which of the 7 Ancient Wonders would you pick to see in its prime?
Oh, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, easy. That’s the one we know the least about. The Pyramids are still there (albeit past their glory days); we have bits of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Pharos lighthouse was still there for most of the Middle Ages and we have the foundations; we can make a lot of educated guesses about the Colossus of Rhodes and Pheidias’ chryselephantine statue of Zeus because we have so much other Greek sculpture (I think we have some artistic depictions of the statue of Zeus too? The Byzantines hung onto it for a while after the Pagan temples at Olympia were shut down). For the Hanging Gardens, we literally have nothing to go on but second- and third-hand written descriptions. To be honest, we’re not even completely certain they were in Babylon – a good chunk of Babylon has been excavated and there’s no sign of them, and I don’t think they’re mentioned in any known Babylonian cuneiform texts. I’ve seen it argued that they were actually in Nineveh (near modern Mosul), the capital of the Assyrian Empire, which was kinda like… Babylon 2.0 for a while (that could conceivably have caused our Greek sources to get a little muddled). Or perhaps they were just the rooftop gardens of the royal palace, and the Greeks got a little carried away in describing them.
But despite everything we don’t know, I think they must have been pretty special. Building a rooftop garden, the size of a palace, in Baghdad, full of plants that don’t naturally grow there, with pre-industrial technology, shows a damned impressive command of irrigation and water management. And besides that, what we’re describing is basically a botanical garden, a place you can go to see exotic plants that require special care. To my mind, that’s a special moment in the history of science as well as engineering and culture, one that shows a real interest in understanding and controlling the variety and beauty of the natural world. The Greeks saw elaborate gardens full of exotic plants as major distinctive features of Babylonian and Persian culture, and even though they sometimes looked down on their eastern neighbours for being “soft” or “effeminate,” they couldn’t deny the beauty and grandeur of their cultural achievements (our word “paradise” comes, through Greek, from the Persian word for garden). The inclusion of the Hanging Gardens in the traditional “seven wonders” attests to that (although, admittedly, that list is mostly just one dude’s… like, opinion, man – honestly, what gets to be a “wonder” is a pretty interesting topic in itself).