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. Read on to find out what and which are the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World: Must-See Destinations for Ancient Travelers
During the Hellenistic 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, and travelers began recording their journeys and compiling lists of impressive monuments they encountered. These must-see destinations were initially known as theamata (sights) and eventually thaumata (wonders).
With time, the lists were limited to 7 wonders, with each traveler having their own special preferences, based on the places they visited. As a result, there was some variation as to the monuments that went on these lists. For instance, some included the walls of Babylon, while others replaced them with the Lighthouse of Alexandria or, later, even the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Herodotus (5th century BCE) and Callimachus of Cyrene (3rd century BCE) are first credited with making lists with Wonders, though these were not preserved. The list of the monuments we now recognize as the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, belongs to Philo of Byzantium (3rd century BCE) and Antipater of Sidon (around 2nd century BCE) .
If the list had been created by someone living in another part of the world, it would certainly be different, as explained in our lesser-known wonders article. 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 the Greek travelers’ reach.
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7. Great Pyramid of Giza
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 around 2500 BCE for Pharaoh Khufu, and is still standing, even after 4500 years. Its making was a true marvel of ancient engineering; 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.
The Great Pyramid (also known as the 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. The tombs of the three kings make a unique sight, a sort of artificial mountain, 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. Together the pyramids and the Egyptian Sphinx make the Giza Pyramid complex.
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.
The existence of the Hanging Gardens has been long disputed by historians. That is because the wonder 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 Assyrians took 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 ancient aqueducts. In any case, the wonder was destroyed in the 1st century CE by an earthquake.
5. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Phidias, one of antiquity’s greatest sculptors, created the statue of Zeus at Olympia in the 5th century BCE. 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.
Allegedly, 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, though it 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 and wife Artemisia II 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 four famous Greek sculptors: Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas, and Timotheus.
Artemisia continued the work after Mausolus’ passing, but also died before the monument was finished. In the end, the architects and sculptors agreed to finish the work thinking 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 Wonder
As its name suggests, the Colossus of Rhodes was a colossal statue of god Helios (Sun) on 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 have taken 12 years to build (ca. 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 on 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 harbor of Alexandria. If the estimates are correct and its height surpassed 110 meters, it would have been the second tallest 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 Toulon 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 Ancient Wonders
The temple of Artemis or Artemiseion at Ephesus was a temple devoted to the cult of the Goddess Artemis or Diana, and should not be confused with the temple of Artemis in Corfu. The first temple was destroyed in a flood at some point in the 7th century and 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 second temple was burned in 356 BCE by Herostratus, a man who wanted to destroy the monument in order to earn easy fame. His action triggered a damnatio memorial, but in the end Herostratus was right. Destroying the temple did earn him a spot in the history books and his story remains known as one of the most famous examples of destruction of cultural heritage in history. After Herostratus’ arson, the temple was rebuilt and took an even more grandiose form. It was this new version of the temple that was commemorated as one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Antipater of Sidon, who flourished at the end of the 2nd century BCE, was particularly impressed by the temple and even wrote that it was the most remarkable of the Wonders. Eventually, the temple was destroyed with the coming of Christianity.
“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 7 Wonders of the Ancient World: Legacy
The original list with the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World that dates back to Antipater and Philo proved to be particularly influential. Subsequent writers compiled their own lists of Wonders, based on their respective culture, education, and geographic location. For example, in the second century CE, when Rome was the center of the known world, the Roman poet Martial added the Colosseum of Rome in his version of the list. Christian writers, notably Gregory of Tours (6th century CE), would add the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, Noah’s Ark, and make lists with natural wonders.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, multiple lists made their appearance. Monuments like the Kom-El-Shoqafa in Alexandria, the Haghia Sofia in Istanbul, and the Great Wall of China were listed among others as the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, while mount Everest and the Grand Canyon were featured in lists of the Seven Wonders of Natural World. In 2001, the Swiss NewWonders Foundation compiled the list with the New Wonders of the World through an online vote, including monuments from all around the world, like Chichen Itza, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and more. The only ancient wonder that made it into this new list was the Pyramid of Khufu. Interstingly the Pyramid was not voted in but was added as an honorary entry. The same foundation has also compiled a list with the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and there are multiple different lists focusing on different areas, like wonders of modern engineering, the solar system, and more.