A British academic believes she has identified from ancient texts the actual site of the elusive Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It's the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World whose location has remained undiscovered for centuries.

Dr Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University focused her search hundreds of kilometres from the site of ancient Babylon - now near Hillah in Iraq - to support her theory that the lush marvel was built near the city of Nineveh, in the north of the country.

She found evidence in early writings the gardens were built not by the Babylonians and their king Nebuchadnezzar, as previously thought, but by their neighbours and foes the Assyrians, under their monarch Sennacherib, about 2700 years ago.

Sennacherib's capital, Nineveh, is near modern-day Mosul, a part of Iraq still wracked by religious and ethnic violence. Although Dalley went to the region this autumn, it was too dangerous to visit the exact spot.


However, using maps, she directed a local film crew with an armed escort to the area, next to the ruins of the king's palace, to survey it on her behalf. Their footage showed a vast mound of rubble, looking out on to modern housing and open countryside beyond. Dalley said: "That's the best place for it to be. It looks like a good place for a garden."

The film is the result of more than 20 years' research by Dalley, of Oxford's Oriental Institute, to prove the gardens' location. With no archaeological evidence ever found, many dismissed them as a myth. Knowledge of the gardens is based on a few accounts, written hundreds of years after they were said to have been built and by people who never saw them.

One account claims they were created by King Nebuchadnezzar, 600 years before the birth of Christ, at Babylon, as a paradise in the desert for his wife who missed the green mountains of her home. However, in the writings of the time, including Nebuchadnezzar's own texts, there is no mention of a garden and more than a century of digging has found nothing.

Dalley directed her own research north after decoding an ancient cuneiform text - the wedge-shaped script of the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires - that led her to believe the gardens had been attributed to the wrong location, the wrong man and wrong period.

The academic, one of a handful of people in the world who can read cuneiform, found a reference to the gardens on the Taylor Prism at the British Museum. It describes the life of Sennacherib, who lived 100 years before Nebuchadnezzar and ruled an empire stretching from southern Turkey to modern-day Israel. It also describes a palace and gardens the king built as a "wonder for all people".

Further support for the theory comes from a bas-relief from Nineveh, now in the British Museum, which shows his palace complex and a garden featuring trees on terraces and plants hanging from arches.

Because Nineveh is so far from Babylon, the evidence was overlooked. However, Dalley found that the Assyrians later conquered Babylon and their capital became known as "New Babylon", possibly accounting for the confusion over the names.

The ancient wonders
* Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
* Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey
* Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
* Mausoleum at Helicarnassus, Turkey
* Colossus of Rhodes, Greece
* Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt
* Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq.