Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The ancient Greek historians made a list of the seven most impressive structures which had been constructed by humans, and coincided on seven whose importance and wonder made them an important destination to visit. Throughout history, this list has changed many times. The marvels which we present in this article are officially known as the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Of the seven wonders, only the Great Pyramid of Giza remains standing.

7 Wonders of the Ancient world
7 Wonders of the Ancient world

The history behind the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

It is not known with certainty who made the first selection of the monuments, but it is suspected that it was the poet Callimachus of Cyrene, author of the book, “A Collection of Wonders around the World.”

Antipater of Sidon, currently considered as the principal source, leaves us a description of these emblematic places:

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 labor 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.’

We also find Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian, who in his treatise “Seven spectacles of the world” describes:

The Egyptian Thebes, with its multiple temples; the walls of Babylon, which protected a coveted city, the sepulcher of Mausolus; the collection of pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Capitol of Rome and the monument of Adrian.

During the Middle Ages we find texts which mentioned thirty wonders, like the text which is read in the Codex Vaticanus 989 (from the year 1300). In the Renaissance, the classical influence sustained the number seven, defended by Angelo Poliziano in the 15th Century.

In the 19th Century a collection of books was published in France, which received the name of “Library of wonders,” among which “Wonders of architecture” (1865) by André Lefèvre stands out, which included Celtic, Mycenaean, Jewish, Assyrian, Persian, and Indian buildings: from the monoliths of Carnac, through the Lion Gate or Thebes, to the temples of Shiva.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: The definitive list

Finally the list which has reached us in our days is made up of the following works:

  • The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • The statue of Zeus at Olympia.
  • The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • The Colossus of Rhodes.
  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria.
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza.

1. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The architectural complex of the city of Babylon included the Esagila or temple of Marduk, whose measurements were astonishing; it was 85.80 meters by 79.30 meters and had access from all four sides.

Seven wonders of the world - Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Hanging Gardens of Babylon

On the banks of the Euphrates river, this space, destroyed and reconstructed on successive occasions, occupied a surface of 250,000 square meters. The statue of Marduk, made of gold, was lost like that of the god Zeus at Olympia, and all that remains to us are the traces of a god with a beard who has at his feat an invincible dragon.

Thus far, it has been impossible to locate this complex or explain how the plants it possessed were irrigated. It is known that the gardens were constructed by the king Nebuchadnezzar for the entertainment of his wife Amytis and they formed a part of the colossal palace with a hall which measured 52 x 17 meters.

As some testimonies we can mention the geographer Strabo who emphasized:

It consists of vaulted terraces raised one after another which rest on cubic pillars. These are hollowed out and filled with earth in order to permit the planting of trees of great size. The pillars, the vaults, and terraces are constructed of baked brick and asphalt.

Philo of Byzantium wrote:

The so-called Hanging Gardens, having plants above ground, are cultivated in the air, with the roots of the trees above covering the tilled earth like a roof. Beneath, stone columns are set, so t hat the entire space that there is on the ground is occupied by pillars. Separated palm trees serve as beams, leaving very little space in between them. This is the only timber which does not rot. In addition, when it is soaked and put under pressure it swells upward and nourishes the growth from roots. It is a whim of the art, luxurious and regal, and most of all, forced because the cultivator’s hard work is hanging over the heads of the spectators.

The terraces included trees like cypresses, cedars, almonds, poplars, ebony, palm trees, and oaks, and separate from them there were delightful plants like fig trees, quinces, pears, and apple trees.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the present.

There are no known ruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; tens of expeditions have searched for them in vain in the proximity of the city of Al Hillah in Iraq. In western imagination this garden is tied to the myth of the Garden of Eden and the exotic Orient, as can be seen in the 16th Century engravings by Maarten van Heemskerck.

2. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

The construction of the Artemision, the temple of Artemis (or Diana), was only possible when the king Croesus of Lydia, around 550 B.C., offered the resources necessary for its costly columns and ended, according to Pliny the Elder, one hundred twenty years later. The historian Jordanes believed that the Amazons had been the managers of the temple.

Seven Wonders of the World - Temple of Artemis
Temple of Artemis

It is thought that a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess existed before the temple itself around 800 B.C. on the beach of the nearby gulf, probably related to the local devotion to the goddess Cybele.
Around the year 356 B.C., the year of Alexander the Great’s birth, the temple was intentionally burned down. The building was remade and was again assaulted and ruined around 262.

Ephesus

Ephesus was under Lydian, Persian, Roman, byzantine, and Ottoman dominion (1425-1863). Justinian I embellished its streets and buildings. Re-founded in the Hellenistic era, it was a commercial center between East and West, but also the seat of the Councils of Ephesus, at the Church of Mary. The Church of Saint John was constructed with blocks from the temple of Artemis and on January 30, 1375 the end of work on the mosque of Isa Bey was announced, where blocks from the temple were also used, and a new settlement called Ayasuluk was consolidated.

In the present

In 2008 it was announced that the Artemis Culture Arts and Education Foundation, directed by Dr. Atılay İleri, had been preparing for around ten years for the detailed reconstruction of the lost temple, at a cost of 150 million dollars. Engineers have calculated that 25,000 cubic meters of marble will be used to be able to reproduce in a faithful copy the hundred and twenty adorned columns which characterized this lost emblem of world heritage.

3. The statue of Zeus at Olympia

In Elis, next to the river Alpheus and Mount Kronos, the sanctuary of Olympia was erected. The prestige of this city of worship was enormous, owing to its strategic position and because it became the seat of the Olympic games from 776 B.C. onward.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Statue of Zeus
Statue of Zeus

In the center of the agora was the temple of Zeus; there the statue of the father of the gods could be admired. Thirty-nine neighboring constructions also existed, like the temple of Hera and the Prytaneion. There were 3,900 statues of bronze, silver, and gold. The amenities were augmented by houses for guests and baths. The olive branches which were used in the crowns and which served as perfumes came from Altis.

The statue of Zeus

The greatest spectacle was the Temple of Zeus, constructed between 470-456 B.C. of faux marble with two pediments, the eastern represented Zeus and a succession of planned figures like the two chariots of Pelops and Oenomaus; the western showed the god Apollo in the center and on the sides the centaurs and the Lapiths in full fight.

The statue of Zeus, which impressed so much, was made by the sculptor Phidias of Athens (465-425 BC), inspired by a verse from Homer. The sculpture, of gold and ivory, with a wooden nucleus, reached a height of 12 meters and represented an enormous seated Zeus, of a paternal look, with a naked torso, crowned with an olive wreath and with a tunic placed over his legs.

Its fate

In 393, Theodosius abolished the Olympic games and in 426 Theodosius II dismantled a part of the pagan sanctuary which ended up converted into a church around the year 450. Later, two earthquakes between 522 and 551 toppled the columns; and finally, it was left buried by mud and a layer of earth. The sculpture of Zeus was transported to Byzantium and was destroyed.
In 1829 a French expedition of archaeologists found the ruins and part of the pediments, today exhibited with their fragments in the Louvre.

4. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum, despite its Greek appearance, was constructed in honor of Mausolus, a satrap in the service of the Persians who governed with a heavy hand over the inhospitable zone of Halicarnassus (present day Bodrum, Turkey) from 377 until the year of his death in 353 B.C.

Seven Wonders of the ancient world - Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Seven Wonders of the ancient world – Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

They attribute to his sister, and at the same time loved wife Artemisia, the construction of the tomb in honor of her brother. Apparently, Artemisia governed Halicarnassus for two years after he died and later, another brother named Idrieus finished the work.

Vitruvius described in his words:

In Halicarnassus we find the the palace of the most powerful king Mausolus, adorned completely with marble from Marmara Island, which possesses walls of brick surprising for their magnificent solidity, embellished with a plaster such that they seem to have the transparency of glass

The building, settled on sacred ground, consisted of a podium of 30 x 36 meters, where the mortuary bed was encapsulated, a section with 36 Ionian columns and at the top a pyramid with 24 steps. There were 36 sculptures in marble which portrayed characters which were comparable in size to the piece of Artemis which is exhibited in the British Museum. At the base one could find tens of sculptures, bas-reliefs, paintings, and frescoes about mythological themes.

Pausanias highlighted that:

It is of such size and such beauty that the Romans held it in great admiration and gave the name mausoleum to their own tombs.

Two seismic events struck the building in the 12th and 15th Centuries, and later the members of the order of the Knights of Saint John used blocks from the mausoleum to construct a castle on an island opposite Halicarnassus in 1494.

In 1846 the British Museum sent Charles Thomas Newton to confirm the exact location of the architectural gem. He sent some of his findings to London and they are exhibited in a special room.

5. The Colossus of Rhodes

The importance of Rhodes

The Cretan civilization lived on Rhodes around the 16th Century BC, the Mycenaean civilization constructed settlements on this island in the 14th Century BC; in the 5th Century BC the Persians subdued its inhabitants. Three cities united themselves in 408 BC to form a powerful trade whose center was Rhodes.

Rhodes was besieged between 305 and 304 BC by Demetrius I. Rhodes finally emerged victorious and in order to celebrate, the inhabitants of Rhodes decided to contract the architect Chares of Lindos and planned the construction of a monument equivalent to the siege towers and weapons employed at the site. The character to whom they chose to render worship was Helios, the god of the Sun, whose sanctuary implied a mysterious initiation.

The monument

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Colossus of Rhodes
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – Colossus of Rhodes

The statue, made of the same bronze which came from the weapons left during the siege suffered in Rhodes, took 12 years to finish. Its base was of white marble and the figure was stood as much as 33 meters in height. That which may be a legend is its location, as it would have been impossible for the 70 tons that it weighed to have been supported by the weak grounds of the port zone of Mandraki. To this day, no one has found the remains of this mythical colossus.

The colossus fell, knocked down by an earthquake in 223 BC. The bases gave way, the statue was broken and its fall was considered a bad omen. The Romans sacked the city in 43 BC and another earthquake devastated the economy in 155 AD. The situation remained the same until the Arabs entered the island in 654, and in 672 they sold all the bronze to be cast.

In the present

Between 1510 and 1522, Rhodes was governed by the Knights of Saint John, who built a citadel with walls 12 meters thick, and the idea of the colossus became a symbol of resistance to such a point that in 2008 the mayor of Rhodes announced that a project to faithfully reconstruct it existed.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the people of the United States, was placed in the port of New York. Its creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, confessed that his inspiration had always been the Colossus of Rhodes.

6. The Lighthouse of Alexandria

King Ptolemy II ordered the construction of a tower with a base 31 meters by 31 meters, divided into three parts, on one extreme of the island of Pharos, the region of Poseidon, the Old Man of the Sea, the god of metamorphosis. Homer, in the Odyssey, spoke of a dangerous place near Egypt which he identified in this way:

There, in the middle of the choppy sea, is found an island situated in front of Egypt, which they call Pharos.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Lighthouse of Alexandria
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – Lighthouse of Alexandria

The function of this structure which would adopt the name of the island consisted of orienting boats and directing them towards the two ports of the city: The Great Port, reserved for ships of war and the king’s fleet; and the “Eunostos,” or that of Good Return, where hundreds of products were traded. The labors of this work, 120 meters in height and endowed with giant mirrors at the top which reflected light, were finished around 283 BC.

In Cadiz, around 1145, an admiral named Bin Maymún, of the Almoravid fleet, had the lighthouse destroyed in search of a treasure which never existed.

The ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria collapsed due to the earthquake of 1303. What exists now is the fort from the era of the sultan Qaitbay, constructed in 1447 with part of its ruins.

7. The Great Pyramid of Giza

Constructed in the 25th Century BC in Lower Egypt for the Pharaoh Cheops during 23 years and the placement of two-and-a-half million blocks of limestone. It had a height of 146.61 meters, and inclination of 51.85 degrees and occupied 48,000 square meters. The base of the limestone of which the pyramids are made is nummulitic limestone, that is to say, a material formed based around extinct unicellular organisms from the Cretaceous. Of its covering in white limestone we only know that it crumbled and was recycled in construction in Cairo. The pyramidion, the apex of stone covered in gold which was at the peak, did not resist either.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Great Pyramid of Giza
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – Great Pyramid of Giza

Herodotus visited the pyramid and tells us the history of its construction:

The pyramid was made like stairs, which some call steps and others, tiers. When this, its first form, was completed, the workmen used short wooden logs as levers to raise the rest of the stones; they heaved up the blocks from the ground onto the first tier of steps; when the stone had been raised, it was set on another lever that stood on the first tier, and the lever again used to lift it from this tier to the next. It may be that there was a new lever on each tier of steps, or perhaps there was only one lever, quite portable, which they carried up to each tier in turn; I leave this uncertain, as both possibilities were mentioned. But this is certain, that the upper part of the pyramid was finished off first, then the next below it, and last of all the base and the lowest part.

The 4th Dynasty made use of the complex of Giza with a ritual center with other impressive pyramids: that of Chephren of Khafre, and Mykerinos or Menkaure. The first, constructed in the 26th Century BC was 143.5 meters tall. The second, 66 meters in height, was finished with pink granite which came from Aswan. All the buildings have internal passages and secret chambers, niches, and traps.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
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