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A ziggurat, or stepped pyramid temple, in Babylon. Ziggurats were first built in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC.The city of Babylon was founded in around 2000 BC. Under the rule of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BC) it became the centre of the Babylonian Empire, before being conquered by the Assyrians. The city became powerful again during the reign of King Nabopolassar (ruled 626–605 BC), who overthrew the Assyrians. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (ruled 604–562 BC), conquered Assyria and Judah. He may have built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This new Babylonian Empire came to an end in 539 BC, when the city was conquered by the Persians.

Three Babylonian warriors, pictured on tiles on the reconstructed Ishtar Gate

The city

Nebuchadnezzar made Babylon the finest city of its day. The 5th-century BC Greek historian Herodotus described it as “surpassing in splendour any city of the known world”. Archaeologists excavating Babylon at the beginning of the 20th century found that the city wall made a circle almost 18 kilometres (11 miles) long. The Babylonians built in mud-brick covered with glazed tiles, on which artists created sculptured designs.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, compiled by Greek writers in the 2nd century BC. However, they may be purely legendary—unlike the other wonders, which did actually exist. They are: the Pyramids of Giza, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at Alexandria and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.

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