The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
Updated: May 26, 2020
(Michael Kline, DogFoose)
In essence, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were an Ancient Greek travel guide. Contemporary authors did not use the word "wonder," instead they used the word themata which means things to be seen. Eventually the Greeks started to use the thaumata, which translates to wonders to describe these locations. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, are more so, the Seven Wonders of the Hellenic (Greek) world, than the ancient world. Five of the Seven wonders were created by Greeks. The two exceptions are the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
In the 2nd century BC, Philo of Byzantium wrote The Seven Sights of the World. The surviving parts of the document mention six of the seven sites, only the Lighthouse of Alexandria is left out. It's fascinating to realize that the ancient Greeks had tourists eager to visit parts of the Hellenic world, and marvel at the architecture of man made structures. Appreciation of architecture seemingly has been in the human psyche for thousands of years.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were short lived. The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280BC, and was destroyed by an earthquake in 225BC, thus the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World coexisted for roughly 55 years. While the Colossus of Rhodes didn't last long, the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed 4,500 years ago and still stands today.
Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza refers to the Pyramid of Khufu, which is the oldest and largest pyramid in the Giza Pyramid complex. Egyptologist believe that the pyramid took about 10 - 20 years to construct, and was finished around 2,560 BC. The Pyramid was originally 481 feet (146m) tall, and it stood as the tallest manmade structure for 3,800 years. The structure is by all means, massive. It is estimated to be 12,000,000,000 pounds (54,4310,8440 kg) and is complied of 2,3000,000 blocks of limestone and granite. Due to the use of limestone and granite, the pyramid looked more white, but overtime it changed color.
The Greeks believed that the Pyramid was built with slave labor, but now it is believed it was constructed by skilled laborers instead. It has been proposed by Miroslav Verner that the pyramids were constructed in 2 different groups of 100,000 men. These groups were divided up into 5 smaller groups (zaa) with 20,000 men each that were dedicated to different tasks. The exact method of how the stones were transported (via rolling, pushing, carrying) is still disputed. it is believed that they were stacked on top of each other using the critical path method.
Inside the pyramid there are four sections, the Queen's Chamber, Grand Gallery, the Big Void and the King's Chamber. Over the course of 4,500 years, the pyramid has been looted countless times and not much remains inside. The most notable item left in the pyramid is a granite sarcophagus in the King's Chamber.
The Pyramid of Giza is the oldest, tallest and longest lasting of all the wonders. Each year, the pyramids get 14,700,000 visitors, making this wonder of the ancient world, also a wonder of the modern world to many.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been described as a remarkable feat of engineering that featured multiple layers of hanging plants, shrubs, trees, and vines in the city of Babylon. It is depicted as a gorgeous green mountain of flora hanging over the city of Babylon.
Interestingly enough, there is no definitive evidence that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually existed. There are no contemporary Babylonian texts that describe the garden, and there is no archeological evidence of the garden's location. However, there are 3 distinct theories about the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The first theory is that the gardens never actually existed, and it was just a romanticized notion of a marvelous garden east of the Greek world. In this theory, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are like the lost city of Atlantis, and any historical writings about them are purely mythology that have historians misconstrued as factual. Whether or not the gardens were real, there are numerous Greek texts that refer to these Gardens.
The second theory is that the gardens did exist but at some point in time they were destroyed, an only an oral legacy lived on. Once writing became more common, the tales of the garden were recorded. This is similar to The Iliad by Homer. The Trojan War was supposedly fought 500 years before Homer wrote down the story. In the first century AD, a Greek author named Josephus cites Berossus when he records the history of the Hanging Gardens. Berossus' account of the gardens was written in 290 BC, and in it he attributes King Nebuchadnezzar II (ruler of Bablyon in the 500s BC) as ordering the construction of marvelous gardens to please his wife who missed her homeland that featured green hills and valleys. In this case, Josephus was citing someone who lived 300 years after the creation of the garden, and to many this is not enough evidence that the gardens existed.
The last theory, refers to an older, but well known Assyrians garden in the city of Nineveh. This garden was built by Assyrian King, Sennacherib. Sennacherib was the king of Neo-Assyrian empire from 705-681 BC. His garden was considered a paradise on earth. Around his palace there were orchards, parks, and lush gardens. His garden featured 31 miles (50km) of aqueducts that were made of 2,000,000 stones. The garden itself also included deers, gazelles and lions. His garden would have been 300 miles (482 km) away from Babylon. It is possible that this botanical beauty is the actual Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Greeks misattributed its location to Babylon. Out of all the theories about the Hanging Gardens, I view this one as the most viable option.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis was located in Epshesus, which in in modern day Turkey. It was dedicated to the Goddess of hunting, wild animals and the moon, Artemis. Prior to the Greeks arriving at Ephesus, temples were already constructed on this site. The Greeks ascribed the temples as being created by the mythological Amazons. The temples were destroyed in a great flood in the 7th century BC. In 550 BC Croesus of Lydia, hired Chersiphron and his son Metagenes to build a grander temple where the previous Amazonian temple stood. After 10 years of construction, the temple was built. Worshippers of Artemis, and Ancient Greek tourist would visit the temple to honor Artemis. In 356 BC (the same year, and some say same day, that Alexander the Great was born) a man named Herostratus burnt down the temple. Herostratus did this for the sole reason of wanting his named to be rememberEd. Law makers at the time passed a law to prevent anyone from mentioning his name in writing, in hopes that history would shun him for wanting to be famous for burning down the temple. Ultimately that failed, and the name of Herostratus still lives on.
Alexander the Great was aware of the importance of the temple and offered to pay for the temple to be rebuilt. The Ephesians are reported saying "it would be improper for one god to build a temple to another." In 323 BC, the Ephesians funded the reconstruction of the temple. They made it 450 ft (137m) long and 225 ft (69m) wide, and 60 ft (18m) wide. That would make the temple 6 stories tall, and longer and wider than a football field. The temple was made of marble and over time, Greek artists added paintings and sculptors to the temple.
The temple would remain intact for the next 600 years, until a gothic raid in 268 AD. The exact amount of destruction done to the temple is unknown. Eventually Christians in the late Roman Empire took over the temple and closed it down because it did not represent their beliefs. Pieces of the destroyed temple were used in construction of other buildings. Most notably, some columns in the famous Hagia Sophia were originally used in the Temple of Artemis. Other parts of the temple also found a new home in Constantinople.
Excavations were funded by the British Museum in the early 1900s. There were some 4th century BC fragments found that are now on display in the Museum. The Temple of Artemis today is in Selcuk, Turkey and is marked by just a single column left that stands.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
(Quatremère de Quincy, 1815)
The ancient Olympics Games took place in Olympia, which was a town in the Elis region of Greece. At the time, Elis was a rival state of Athens and wanted to construct a statue of Zeus greater than that of the Temple of Zeus in Athens. Every four years the Eleans hosted the Olympics in honor of Zeus, so a giant statue of Zeus was important to show off the strength of the Eleans.
The Eleans hired famous Greek sculptor, Phidias to create the statue. Phdias used ivory plates, gold panels and wood framework to create the 41 foot (12.4m) Statue of Zeus.
The exact destruction of the statue is unknown, but there are a couple of valid theories. In 391 AD, Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned pagan cults and closed all pagan temples, which led to the Statue of Zeus being illegal to worship. After it's abandonment there was a fire in 425 AD which is said to have burnt down the statue.
There is an alternative theory by the Byzantines that it was carried off to Constaninople at some point and melted in the Great Fire at the Palace of Lausus. The statue is effectively lost to history, with only coinage and Ancient Greek texts of the statue still existing.
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
An alternative name for the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is the Tomb of Mausolus. Mausolus' spectacular above ground tomb, is the reason that English speakers use the word mausoleum to refer to an above ground tomb. Mausolos was a satrap (a governor-like position) in the Achaemenid Empire (Persian empire). Mausolus and his sister-wife, Artemisia, were able to conquer parts of Asia Minor. Mausolus decided to move his capital to Halicarnassus, which was inhabited by Greek speaking people that emulated the greek style of life and government. The decision to move the capital to Halicarnassus, subseqently led to Mausolus spending a large portion of tax revnue on beautifying the city. He invested heavily in buildings, temples and statues.
In 353BC, before his death Mausolus, started plans for a plan for his tomb. Once he passed away, his sister-wife, started to recruit the best Greek architects are the time. She managed to get Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas and Timotheus along with hundreds of craftsmen to work on the project. The tomb was built on a hill that overlooked the city. The Mausoleum was 148 feet tall (45 m), and each side of the tomb was sculpted with reliefs created by the four Greek architects.These reliefs depicted Greeks fighting Amazonian, Centaurs and other Greek mythological figures. On the very top of the structure were 4 chariots made of marble.
The tomb remained in good condition for 1,600 years, but earthquakes overtime did damage to the structure. In 1494, the Knights of Saint John of Rhodes invaded the region and built the Castle of Saint Peter with remnants from the destroyed masueolum.
In 1852, British Archaeologist, Charles Thomas Newton set out to discover the remains of the Mausoleum. After successfully locating the tomb from documents written by Pliny the Elder, Newton purchased plots of land in Turkey to excavate. He discovered a 6 foot broken stone chariot wheel, which resembled that of the chariot described. He then discovered statues that are identified as Mausolus and Artmesisia. He loaded up these discoveries, along with a few stone lions and brought them back. Today they are stored at the British Museum.
When Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus built the tomb, they incorporated statues of people and animals. There were no allusions to the gods, which makes this one of the few major constructions of the ancient world not dedicated to a deity. The architecture of the Masueloum has been replicated countless times in the west. Los Angeles City Hall, President Grant's Tomb in New York and the National Newark Building in New Jersey are all stylized after this ancient wonder.
Colossus of Rhodes
(Bettman, Getty Images)
The Colossus of Rhodes was the tallest statue of the ancient world. Built in the image of the Greek god Helios, it stood at 108 ft (32.9m) tall, which is nearly identical to the size of Statue of Liberty, which is 111 ft tall (305 ft including the platform). Helios was constructed to celebrate successfully holding off a Macedonian siege. Chares of Lindos led the construction of the bronze behemoth in 282 BC. Helios was an obvious choice for the Rhodians, because at the time it was customary Greek cities to have a patron god, and Helios was the patron god of Rhodes.
The reign of the Colossus of Rhodes was short lived. In total, the statue was up for 54 years, becasue an earthquake struck the city. The Colossus is said to have snapped at the knees and fell onto the land. Ptolemy III, the King of Egypt offered to pay for the statue to be erected again, but the offer was denied by the Rhodians, because the oracle of Delphi convinced the Rhodians that they offended Helios in some capacity. The broken pieces of the statue stayed in the city for 800 years after. Tourists would travel to Rhodes just to see the broken statue.
In 653 AD, Muslim caliph Muawiyah captured the city of Rhodes. He burnt down the statue and sold the melted bronze. Muawiyah's actions were an allusion to the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of the Great Statue.
In 2008 and 2015 European architects brought up the idea of reconstructing the statue in Rhodes. The project was estimated at $283,000,000 and would've been crowd funded. The proposed statue would be also come with a cultural center, library, and lighthouse. Since 2018, there have not been any announcements on continuing such plan, but the possibllity of reconstructing this giant, is often brought up in conversation.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
(Sergey Kamshylin, Fotolia)
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. When Alexander died, his empire was spilt up between his generals. Alecander's companion, Ptolemy I Soter would inherit Egypt. After becoming the Pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy I commissioned a lighthouse to be built to guide trade ships into the bustling harbor of Alexandria. The lighthouse is also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, because it was was built on a tiny island named Pharos that is less than a mile away (1,200m) from Alexandria. It took 12 years to be constructed and it was finished in 280 BC, during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the son of Ptolemy I. In total it cost 800 talents of silver to be made, which is roughly $3 million today. Standing at 305 feet, the light house is roughly 3x the size of the Colossus of Rhodes.
While the lighthouse might've been a spectacular structure, it was built in quite an unspectacular location. The city of Alexandria is 350km (217 miles) from the African-Arabic tectonic rift, and 520km (323 miles) from the Red Sea rift. As a result of this location, earthquakes are common. Eaqrthquakes in 796 AD, 951 AD, 956 AD, 1303 AD and 1323 AD, all led to the destruction of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. By 1323 AD, all that was left were ruins, and in 1480 AD, the leftover ruins were used to construct the Citadel at Qaitbay. The Lighthouse stood between 280 BC and 1480 AD, for a total of 1,760 years. To put that in perspective, Columbus reached the Americas in 1492 (508 years ago). This means that parts of the lighthouse stood for 3.5x longer than the Europeans have known about the new world.
The current state of the lighthouse is underwater. In 1994, with the help of satellite imagining, French archaeologists discovered the remains of the lighthouse on the floor of Alexandria's harbor. UNESCO is currently working with the Government of Egypt to add the Bay of Alexandria to the list of World Heritage sites. There are also talks of making the submerged ruins into an underwater museum for tourists.
The legacy of the lighthouse is quite interesting. The flag of Alexandria depicts a lighthouse, which is an obvious allusion to the former lighthouse on Pharos. The word for lighthouse is various languages comes from "Pharos." Faro is the Italian and Spanish word for lighthouse, phare, is the French word for lighthouse. Farol means lighthouse in Portuguese. φάρος (faros) is the Greek word for lighthouse, and certain slavic languages use far for lighthouse.
The initial construction of these strucetures took place hundreds of years ago, yet they still maintain relevance. It is still a topic of discussion to recreate these sites, and there have even been some modest attempts to start expensive construction projects in order to bring back these ancient wonders. Whether or not they bring back these ancient architectures, their legacies still carry on. For English speakers, masuelom has entered out vernacular because of the impressive nature of Masulous tomb. The word lighthouse across multiple languages is traced back to the Pharos at Alexandria. The legacy of these wonders have long out lived most of their physical lifespans.