5 Lesser-Known Wonders of the Ancient World

Many of the so-called Seven Wonders of the Ancient World collapsed into rubble a long time ago, such as the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, both of which were destroyed by earthquakes.

Nov 14, 2019By Alexandra Doyle, Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
The Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct; with Leshan Giant Buddha; and Newgrange


Many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World collapsed into rubble a long time ago. The Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, both of which were destroyed by earthquakes.


Some of these wonders perhaps never existed at all, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. We are going to take a look at some of the less famous architectural triumphs of the ancient world and what makes them unique.


Furthermore, every landmark mentioned here is something you could see with your own eyes today. Now, imagine you’re in a time long before bulldozers and cranes, picture what it must have taken to construct the following awe-inspiring landmarks.


Petra: The Carved Wonder of the Ancient World

Petra, via To Vima


Let’s kick things off with an entire city carved into and out of sandstone cliffs in the desert of modern-day Jordan. The residents of Petra, also known as the Rose City or Raqmu, began building their city as early as the fifth century BCE. They controlled trade in their region by making their city one of the few oases in the desert that surrounds it.


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Visitors accessed the city from the east via a narrow, tunnel-like passage in the surrounding rocks called the Siq, which also serves as a waterway. The citizens of Petra also controlled the rain and regular flooding that affected their city by rerouting water into dammed waterways and cisterns that allowed the city to use a normal amount of water even during droughts.


Its most popular tourist attraction today is Al Khazneh, or “The Treasury,” an elaborate temple carved into a sandstone cliff that is thought to have been the mausoleum of a king who died during the first century CE.


Roman Aqueducts

The Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct, via dromeprovencal.com


They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and these aqueducts, monuments of the ancient world, certainly weren’t, either. Remnants of ancient Roman aqueducts lie across Europe, but two of the most impressive are the Pont du Gard in southern France and the aqueduct in Segovia, Spain.


The Pont du Gard was built in the first century and is part of an aqueduct that spans over 50 kilometers. Its three tiers of arches make it the tallest of all known Roman aqueducts, and it carried an estimated 40,000 cubic meters of water every day to the city of Nîmes. 


After the Roman empire collapsed, the aqueduct’s bridge was still used as a toll bridge, which is part of the reason it still stands today. 


The Segovia Roman aqueduct, via World Monuments Fund


Segovia’s aqueduct also originated in the first century, part of a 17 kilometers span. This aqueduct begins with a series of two cisterns, and, at its tallest, reaches 28.5 meters.


It consists of a series of single and double arches, unlike the Pont du Gard, which has three tiers across its length.


Göbekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe, via The Hurriyet


This monument, whose name is Turkish for “Potbelly Hill,” is a site in Turkey thought to be the oldest temple or ritual site in the world, a true wonder of the ancient world. Its original purpose isn’t entirely clear, but the stone ruins were erected sometime between the 10th and 8th century BCE.


The ceremonial mound on which Göbekli Tepe sits measures about 300 meters in diameter, and its largest pillars– the world’s oldest-known megaliths– weigh up to 10 tons. The site was found in 1963, but researchers at the time thought its stones indicated a Byzantine cemetery. The ruins were not excavated until 1993, when its age and size were fully revealed.


Ireland’s Newgrange

Newgrange, via hurleytravel.com


Newgrange is an enormous, prehistoric passage tomb in eastern Ireland. It was built around 3200 BCE. (about 500 years before Stonehenge). It resembles a large, flattened dome-shaped sports arena. At 76 meters across, it’s quite an engineering marvel for the Neolithic human society.


The structure is called a passage tomb for obvious reasons; it features a long passageway flanked by tombs and offerings to or for the dead. A circle of standing stones surrounds the mound, which is thought to have been added later. Some of the stones in and around Newgrange are decorated with carvings and other art.


One of the most spectacular architectural facts about the site is that the large room inside the dome is filled with sunlight only on the winter solstice. The people who built Newgrange possibly used this feature as an enormous calendar that told them when winter had reached its peak and the days would soon become warmer and shorter.


Leshan Giant Buddha: A Giant Wonder of the Ancient World

Leshan Giant Buddha, via KLM


This giant statue‘s construction begun in 713 CE, when a Chinese monk decided that a statue to the Buddha might calm the violent waters of the nearby rivers.


In 803 CE, the 71-meter-tall statue was completed at the intersection of the Min and Dadu Rivers in southern Sichuan province. It contains a network of drainage channels behind the facing that carry rainwater away from the front of the statue to reduce erosion.


The Buddha was also originally protected by a 13-story wooden structure. The shelter was destroyed by the Mongols. It is the tallest pre-modern statue in existence and the largest Buddha statue in the world. Without a doubt, this was a true wonder of the ancient world. Interestingly, so many rocks fell from the cliff during its construction that the current was altered, and the rivers’ intersection became safe for passing ships. Today, it is known as the Leshan Giant Buddha, in reference to the nearby town of Leshan.

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By Alexandra DoyleDoctor of Musical Arts (DMA)Alexandra is a writer in Cincinnati, where she is pursuing a Doctorate of Musical Arts in clarinet performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She is a native Houstonian, and she earned bachelor’s degrees in both clarinet performance and journalism from the University of Houston.