Robert Koldewey and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Robert Koldewey
(1855 – 1925)

On September 10, 1855, famous German architect and self-trained archeologal historian Robert Johann Koldewey was born. He is best known for his discovery of the ancient city of Babylon in modern day Iraq, where he excavated the foundations of the ziggurat Marduk, and the famous Ishtar Gate.

Robert Koldewey studied architecture, archeology, and art history in Berlin, Munich and Vienna but dropped out without graduating. Koldewey left for his first research trip to the northern Mediterranean coast in 1882. After gaining a little influence, he was also given the tasks to perform excavations in Lesbos and Mesopotamia in search of ancient cities. In the 1890s, Koldewey traveled to Italy, measuring and describing several temples and their inscriptions.

To find new places for excavations, Koldewey traveled along with Eduard Sachau to Mesopotamia around 1898. He chose Babylon as a suitable area. In spring 1899 the first excavations were performed and after 18 years of work, the adventurer returned to Germany. Babylon has attracted many investigators during the 18th century, however, the excavation group led by Robert Koldewey were the first to perform actual scientific excavations. Actually, British teams dug out artefacts and tablets as well, but “without regard to context or integrity of the archeological site”[1]. Koldewey understood, that findings needed to be exposed systematically. Mesopotamian objects were especially hard to work with, since many things were built with sun dried mud or were over baked. Koldeway found new ways to safely expose the material while avoiding to demolish it by any chance.

Before Koldewey began working at Babylon, they only were a myth concerning a great mountain filled with plants and trees. Koldewey was able to excavate many of the sight’s objects including several walls and the original of the Tower of Babel, as it is assumed. During his work on a citadel, the archeologist even found over a dozen rooms with stone arch ceilings in a basement. Motivated by this success, Koldewey continued, finding several of Diodorus predicted features and finally believing to have found the Hanging Gardens, which many specialists questioned.

However, Koldewey managed to uncover 45 feet of the famous Ishtar Gate, which was originally dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Through the Gate ran the Processional Way. Parts of the gate and the famous Processional Way are now displayed at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Other parts like the lions on the walls are shown in museums world wide.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Gill Stein, who explored the roots of Mesopotamian Civilization

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