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Lush gardens, idyllic orchards and game parks might not be the first images that spring to mind when you think of a great ruler of a lost empire, but King Ashurbanipal was a ruler like no other...
Ashurbanipal ruled the Assyrian empire in the 7th century BC from his capital at Nineveh (now in northern Iraq). The relief above depicts him and his queen relaxing in a sumptuous garden. But look closely, and you can see that the head of an enemy is hanging from a tree on the left – a reminder that this paradise was attained through a long and bloody war.
The gardens at Nineveh were irrigated by an immense canal network. They brought water to the city from mountains over 30 miles away, using channels and aqueducts to create a year-round oasis of all types of flora. They were constructed more than 500 years before the Romans started building their aqueducts. Assyrian reliefs were also once vividly coloured, as shown here.
Some scholars have argued that the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – were actually those at Nineveh. They claim that later writers had confused Nineveh and Babylon, which may help to explain why excavations at the site of Babylon have never yielded any evidence of raised architectural gardens there.
Journey through Ashurbanipal’s enchanting gardens and discover more about his vast and remarkable empire in our major exhibition. Listen to our Curators' Commentary about the gardens on iTunes 🎧 and Google Play 🎧