Young Pioneer Tours


by Andy Khong

The remains of Babylon is in present day city of Hillah, about 85 km (53 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq.
It was the capital city of the Babylonian Empire built around the banks of the Euphrates River. It is well
known for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is attributed to Nebuchadnezzar II who built it around 600 BCE for his wife Amytis, who missed the greenery of her homeland.

The Tower of Babel was heart of the vibrant Babylon metropolis. According to Book of Genesis (Bible),
the Babylonians under the leadership of Nimrod (Noah’s Great Grandson) decided to build a ziggurat*
tower to reach up to the heavens. Upon seeing this, God confuses the language (creates multiple languages) of the workers so they couldn’t understand each other; hence the Tower was never completed, and people scattered to different lands.

According to archaeologists and historians, people who lived in Babylon practiced polytheism – the
worship of more than one God, and each city in ancient Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) had a patron
God. Marduk was the patron God of Babylon (being Lord of the Gods of Heaven and Earth), and it was
Nebuchadnezzar II who commissioned the completion of the ziggurat* Tower of Babel which was almost
100m (328 feet) tall; however, there are no remains of the tower today.

[*A ziggurat is a massive structure in the form of a pyramidal tower with a rectangular base, built in successive stages with a number of stories or terraces (usually 2 to 7), outside staircases, and a temple/shrine at the top. The legendary Towel of Babel mentioned in Book of Genesis is built as a ziggurat. Sloping sides and terraces of ziggurats were usually landscaped with trees, plants, and shrubs e.g. the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. During the ancient times, people believed that Gods lived in the sky and the top of the ziggurat is where Priests could commune with a patron deity on behalf of the people by holding religious ceremonies. Each ancient city would have a different patron deity e.g. Nanna, the Moon God was patron of Ur city].

Although no one lives there today, you could visit Babylon and see treasures such as Ishtar Gate, and the
Lion of Babylon. Dating back to 1600 BCE, the Ishtar Gate is one of the 8 main gates that provided entry
to the city of Babylon. Figures of bulls (symbols of Adad, God of Weather), mušḫuššu-dragons (mythological symbols of Marduk, God of Creation, Water, Agriculture, Justice, Medicine, and Magic), and lions (symbols of Ishtar, Goddess of Fertility, Love, War, & Sex) are adorned on Ishtar Gate facing visitors to protect the city from evil influences, and give blessings of good luck [*ghastly looking hybrid dragons with a scaly body, long neck and tail, lion arms, eagle legs, curly horns, and a snake-like tongue].
The Lion of Babylon is a 2600 year old basalt statue of a lion trampling a man, a symbol of power in overcoming misfortune, and enemies.

According to Babylonian records, Alexander the Great died in the south Palace of Nebuchadnezzar
II sometime in June 323 BCE in Babylon. The ruins of this large and ornately decorated palace is located
south of Ishtar Gate and has been reconstructed today. Some archaeologists believe that a maze of
foundations next to the reconstructed Palace of Nebuchadnezzar II may be the site of the Hanging
Gardens of Babylon.

When Saddam Hussein was in power, he built more than 100 opulent palaces and villas. During the
1980ies, Saddam Hussein decided to envision himself as Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (who ruled
from 605 to 563 BCE), and spent millions reconstructing Babylon. A new Palace was needed by Saddam
Hussein to overlook Babylon, and Qawarish village stood in the perfect location. In 1986, Saddam’s workers bulldozed the village which was made up of 120 houses to build the location of his Palace. Today the Palace is in a state of neglect having been looted, gutted, and full of graffiti.

King Nebuchadnezzar II first seized the Kingdom of Judah and captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE, deporting King Jehoiachin to Babylon along with 10,000 prominent citizens, 7,000 craftsman, and 1,000 blacksmiths (according to the Book of Kings). Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s Uncle) was then installed as puppet-King of Judah but when he rebelled against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar brutally crushed it in 587 BCE in the second siege of Judah and the city of Jerusalem, which culminated in the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple (First Temple). It is believed that after this seize, 20,000 people, about 25% of the population were deported to Babylon; with a further deportation in 582 BCE. Because Nebuchadnezzar II had orchestrated the “Babylonian Captivity”, Hebrew authors had no love for him or Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar II and Babylon receive poor treatment in the Bible – being described as a tyrant, and a city of sin and evil. Although depicted negatively by Hebrew scribe, this does not mean those narratives are historically accurate. Nebuchadnezzar II is depicted from other sources in the ancient world as a great king who restored Babylon and transformed it into a city of glory and light, and a centre for the Arts and Intellectual pursuits.

The following is part of the lyrics of the song, “By the Rivers of Babylon”, from the 1978 album ‘Nightflight to Venus’, by artist Boney M: 

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

There the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

The song is based on lamentations of the Jewish people from Kingdom of Judah subjected to Babylonian Captivity by Nebuchadnezzar II; living in a society (Babylon) that restricts people’s freedom and controls them by using force, and the longing for freedom to return to Zion [Zion = Jerusalem and the land of Israel].

For information on visiting Iraq.

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