The 7 wonders of the ancient world were a series of remarkable architectural feats famous amongst Greek travelers in antiquity. These ancient wonders were grand-scale monuments that captured the imagination of artists and scholars for centuries.
The 7 Wonders Of The Ancient World
The Hellenistic period was the time after the fragmentation of Alexander the Great’s empire into smaller, but nonetheless powerful, Greek kingdoms. During this period, the known world (the Mediterranean and the Middle East) was opened to Greek travelers.
As they began exploring the world, travel guides became more and more necessary. As a result, travelers began recording their journeys and compiling lists with the impressive monuments they encountered. These must-see destinations came to be initially known as theamata (sights) and eventually as thaumata (wonders).
The list of the 7 wonders of the ancient world was not absolute. Each traveler gave his own account based on the places they visited. As a result, there is some variation as to what monuments went on the list. For instance, some included the walls of Babylon while others replaced them with the Lighthouse of Alexandria or even the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
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However, the list with the monuments we now recognize as the 7 wonders of the ancient world, belongs to Antipater of Sidon (around 100 BCE) and Philo of Byzantium (2nd century BCE).
If the list had been made by someone living in another part of the world it would certainly be different. So if you wonder why the Great Wall of China or the Colosseum were not included in the list, the answer is simple. The Colosseum was not built until after the end of the Hellenistic period and the Great Wall was out of a Greek traveler’s reach.
7. Great Pyramid Of Giza: The Most Ancient Of The Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World
The Great Pyramid of Giza in Ancient Egypt is the only of the 7 wonders of the ancient world to have passed the test of time. The pyramid is a monumental tomb (146,5 meters tall) built at around 2500 BCE for Pharaoh Khufu and still, after 4500 years, it is still standing!
The Great Pyramid (also known as Pyramid of Khufu) is not the only pyramid in Giza. Khufu’s successors, Khafre (his son) and Menkaure (his grandson) built their own tombs next to the Great Pyramid. Although no one managed to surpass Khufu’s pyramid, the tombs of the three kings make a unique sight that has been attracting crowds of tourists since ancient times. The Great Pyramid included two mortuary temples next to the rooms where the Pharaoh and his wife were buried.
The spectacle of the three artificial mountains in the desert is complemented with the Sphinx, which was made to watch over Khafre’s pyramid. Together the pyramids and the Sphinx make the Giza Pyramid complex.
Coming back to the Great Pyramid, its making was a true marvel of ancient engineering. It was a demanding endeavor that required more than 2.3 million blocks of stone to be quarried and transported from different locations. In addition, the pyramid had a casing of white limestone giving it a different appearance than the one we are used to seeing today.
6. Hanging Gardens Of Babylon
According to ancient sources, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 605 and 652 BCE. There was also an ancient legend that the Gardens were built by the mythical queen Semiramis. As a result, they were also called the Gardens of Semiramis.
The Gardens were a series of terraces containing fauna and flora. The most impressive thing about them except for their size was that they were self-watering. It is not known for certain how this worked. However, there are many different suggestions as to how ancient engineers could have managed it.
According to the legend, the Hanging Gardens were a gift by Nebuchadnezzar II to his wife Amtis of Media who was missing the green mountains of her homeland. The king ordered the construction of large artificial mountains filled with plants and trees to make the queen feel at home.
However, the existence of the Hanging Gardens has been long disputed by historians. That is because it is not mentioned by Babylonian and major Greek historians like Herodotus. According to a fascinating theory by Oxford University Assyriologist, Stephanie Dalley, the gardens were actually built by Sennacherib at Nineveh. Dalley argues that earlier Akkadian inscriptions were misunderstood, thus confusing Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon with Sennacherib’s Nineveh. The main reason would be that after the Assyrian conquering of Babylon in the 7th century, Nineveh was referred to as the New Babylon. In contrast to Babylon, Sennacherib’s gardens were actually well-documented and are supported by archaeological finds such as an impressive system of aqueducts.
In any case, the wonder was destroyed in the 1st century CE by an earthquake.
5. Statue Of Zeus At Olympia
The statue was made of gold and ivory. It depicted the father of gods, Zeus seating on his throne, holding the sculpture of the victory goddess Nike and a scepter with an eagle at the top. The statue was placed inside the temple of Zeus at Olympia and it was so large (almost 12,5 meters) that people joked that if Zeus wanted to stand up, he would hit his head on the ceiling.
In front of the statue, there was a reservoir filled with oil. That helped preserve the statue in good condition by balancing the humidity levels inside the room.
The Roman emperor Caligula wanted to transport the statue to Rome and have Zeus’ head replaced with his own bust. Caligula’s death in 41 CE was a twist of luck that allowed the statue to survive a bit longer.
Eventually, the statue was moved to Constantinople where it was destroyed in a fire in the fifth century CE.
4. Mausoleum At Halicarnassus
Just like the pharaohs of Egypt built monumental pyramids as their tombs, a Persian satrap of Caria called Mausolus decided to build a tomb for himself and his sister Artemisia that no one would forget.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus would have been around 45 meters in height. It was the work of the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene. The four sides of the massive structure were decorated with sculptural reliefs by the four famous Greek sculptors Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas, and Timotheus.
Although Mausolus and Artemisia died before the monument was finished, the architects and the sculptors agreed to finish it as they thought that this was not simply a tomb for the rulers of Caria but also a monument to their own art.
The Mausoleum was the second-longest surviving of the 7 wonders of the ancient world (after the Great Pyramid of Giza). It was destroyed after a series of earthquakes in the 15th century.
3. Colossus Of Rhodes: The Shortest Lived Of The Seven Wonders
As its name suggests, the Colossus of Rhodes was a colossal statue of the god Helios (Sun) at the island of Rhodes.
The sculptor Chares of Lindus was the creator of this monument that came to be known as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. The sculpture was said to be 32 meters high and took 12 years to build (c. 294-282).
The Colossus was so large that the structure did not manage to stand for a long time. An earthquake around 225/226 BCE toppled the sculpture. The ruins were left in place until the Arab invasion of 654 CE. Then the invaders used the remnants of the statue as a source of bronze that took 900 camels to transport.
The statue was the tallest sculpture in the ancient world and a common theme in the coinage of the Rhodians.
2. Lighthouse Of Alexandria
The last one in the list of the 7 wonders of the ancient world was the Lighthouse of Alexandria. This was also the most famous lighthouse in antiquity.
The building was the work of Sostrates of Cnidus. It was standing on the island of Pharos (lighthouse in Greek) in the Alexandrian harbor. According to estimates, it would be higher than 110 meters. As a result, it would have been the second tallest man-made building of its time after the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Lighthouse was built in three stages with a fire burning on the top. It is also quite possible that there was a colossal statue of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy I Soter, or god Helios standing on top of the building.
The lighthouse was still in place in the 12th century CE. It is said that Ahmad ibn Touloun replaced the beacon with a mosque. However, the monumental building had collapsed by the 14th century and only parts of it survived. At around 1480 its ruins were used in the construction of the Citadel of Qaitbay.
1. Temple Of Artemis At Ephesus: The Most Beautiful Of The Seven Wonders?
“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand”” (AntipateR of Sidon,Greek Anthology IX.58)
The temple of Artemis or Artemiseion at Ephesus was a temple devoted to the cult of the Goddess Artemis or Diana. The temple was in place already for centuries and should not be confused with the temple of Artemis in Corfu. Still, it became one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world after it was rebuilt in the 6th century BCE.
It is said that King Croesus of Lydia funded a great part of the temple’s reconstruction which reached 115 meters in length and 55 meters in width.
The temple was burned in 356 BCE by Herostratus who wanted to destroy the monument in order to become famous. His actions triggered an ineffective damnatio memoriae as his act remained known as one of the most famous examples of destructions of cultural heritage in history.
After Herostratus’ arson, the temple was rebuilt and took an even more grandiose form. That was the one commemorated as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient worlds. Eventually, the temple was destroyed with the coming of Christianity.