The first in a two-part post about the Seven Wonders of the World both Ancient and Modern.
Growing up, we often hear mention of the Seven Wonders of the World, but rarely do we actually delve into each one. The majority of people can’t even list them off, either Ancient or Modern. Many don’t even know there are two lists- as I didn’t until this week. Yet, each one is seen as a testament to the power of human ingenuity and skill. In this post we will explore the first list that exists, marking which Ancient monuments and settings have made the cut within it. Tomorrow, we will explore the second list to see what people have chosen to be Today’s Seven Wonders of the World.
Seven Ancient Wonders
First of all, where did this official list come from? According to National Geographic, this list was popularized by Greek writer Antipater of Sidon in the Second Century BCE, though earlier lists have been found as early as Fifth Century BCE and were all written by Hellenic travelers exploring the Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, and Egypt. This sheds some light and understanding on just what makes up this list, considering that nothing outside of that region is mentioned or listed. Also, since it was written and popularized by Greeks who naturally saw their culture as the best, five of the seven wonders are of Greek origin, even though one of those was built on the West Coast of Anatolia/Turkey when it was technically part of Persia and another was built within the city of Alexandria, Egypt(which, by its name, has clear Greek origins). As for the remaining two, one is fully Egyptian while the other is Babylonian.
1. The Great Pyramid of Giza
This is often the first one that we learn about or remember when speaking about the Seven Wonders of the World due to how absolutely ancient it is and the fact that it is still standing. Though there are multiple pyramids built within Giza, clustered together just beyond the city boundary, it is the largest and oldest one that is famed and marked for this list. Since its creation around 2550 BCE, mankind has been in awe of this enormous structure. Even today, we wonder how they built it with the technology that they had.
The pyramid was 481 feet(147 meters) tall, but much of the top has eroded or crumbled to the point that it now stands at 449 feet(137 meters) tall. Yet, considering its age, it is remarkable that it still stands at all! For comparison, it is about a third of the size of the Eiffel Tower which stands at 984 feet(300 meters) and existed as the largest structure in the world for over 4,000 years. As for its history, it was built during Egypt’s Old Kingdom Era for the Pharaoh Khufu in order to be his tomb, there to protect him and guide him on his way through the afterlife. Khufu lived from 2609 BCE to 2584 BCE, making him just 25 when he passed away! He was the Second Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt, son of Sneferu and Queen Hetepheres I and his son, Khafre, built the second largest pyramid of Giza that stands next to his.
But, other than that, not much is really known about the man himself(not surprising considering his short life, even for that time). The Greek historian Herodotus stated that he was a cruel man who used slaves to build the pyramid and was terrible to those around him while other ancient sources say that he was a good and fair ruler. What with the belief in modern history that Khufu actually used hired hands to build the pyramid, Herodotus’ credibility suffers. The Great Pyramid of Giza is truly Khufu’s living legacy on the earth and what he is most remembered for.
What shocked me the most in my research, though, is that the Great Pyramid of Giza is on the Ancient List, but it does not hold a place on the Modern list of Seven Wonders. But, while it is not an official wonder nowadays, it is still a monument of power, age, and mystery for all to still visit and marvel at as they explore.
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
This is a Wonder of the Ancient World that is shrouded in complete mystery. Ancient travelers write of the beauty and majesty of this place; billowing greenery filling vaulted terraces and balconies, irrigated all throughout almost to the point of defying gravity. Yet, the site of the actual Gardens is unknown; no remains of it have been found and confirmed despite its fame. It is written that the Assyrian King Nebuchadrezzar II(605-561 BCE) built the gardens for his wife, Amytis who wished for a green landscape like the one she was born in. Many even claim that it was the later queen Sammu-ramat(810-783 BCE) who built the gardens instead.
The location of the gardens is debated often, many claiming that it was attached or next to the Royal Palace of Babylon while many even believe that it did not reside in Babylon at all. Another theory is that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are actually in Nineveh(the capital city of Assyria) and were made by Sennacherib(705-681 BCE), located 300 miles away from Babylon. Many claim that the Hanging Gardens didn’t even exist at all and were instead a thing of fiction and fable. It really is a fascinating topic to look into and discuss. But, the Gardens themselves are long gone now, though maybe one day the stone balconies and terraces will be found and confirmed by history. It remains to be seen…
3. Statue of Zeus
Created in 436 BCE by Athenian Sculptor Phidias, this was a statue located in Olympia and was made of ivory and gold. Nothing remains of this statue, only mentions of it and coins depicting it. It would make sense that there would be a statue made of Zeus and that it would be grander than the rest of the god’s statues, considering the role that Zeus holds as King of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon so the statue had to have existed once and been a marvel to behold, but other than that we just don’t know. Strangely enough, it is often through studying the sculptor himself that more is theorized considering he was a prominent Greek craftsman.
It makes sense that the Statue of Zeus would be placed in the city of Olympia as a mortal version of Mount Olympus itself. It was the home to the Ancient Olympic Games, thereby having Zeus there to reign over and protect the town as people came and went. Considering that it was surrounded by other temples to other Greek Gods, it makes sense that the Temple and the statue itself would have to be the greatest in order to not offend Zeus himself. The temple that was to house the statue was finished in 457 BCE by local-born architect Libon and was in use until 397 CE due to the decision of Roman Emperor Theodosius who both pushed against Pagan beliefs and got rid of the Olympic Games. It would be just a century or so later that an earthquake would hit, completely destroying the temple, leaving it forgotten until it was found by Richard Chandler in the 1800s.
So much information about the Temple itself, yet not really anything is known about the statue of Zeus which marks this list. It’s baffling really. It is written by Pausanias that it stood 13 meters high, the body made of ivory and the hair and beard gold with an olive crown of silver. But other than a few mentions like this, nothing else remains. Yet, it stands as a representation of the power of the Greek Culture and Religion until its eventual decay and destruction with the rise of the Roman Empire.
4. Temple of Artemis
Built in the area known as Ephesus, nowadays it is mostly in ruins, but it was once a marvel of architecture, leading to its position on this list. To Antipater, the popular writer of this list, this was the Wonder that captured his awe and praise the most. It was created by the Architect Chersiphron and paid for by the King of Lydia, Croesus(reigned from 585-546 BCE). It was to be one of the largest constructed temples in Greece and took over 120 years to build. Despite its grandness, it lived a short life, intentionally burned down by Herostratus in 356 BCE.
A story even exists about this situation written by Plutarch honoring Artemis by saying that, as the goddess of Childbirth, she was away from the Temple helping in the birth of Alexander the Great, meaning she was not there to protect her Temple from being burned down. More is added to this story by the fact that in 334 BCE when the Ephesians were rebuilding it, Alexander the Great liberated the town and offered to pay for the reconstruction, yet the Ephesians refused, apparently even saying that “it was inappropriate for a god to dedicate offerings to gods.” And so the story lives on in fame even to today.
Apparently, the man had done it for the sake of fame- for one cannot forget the man who burned down one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Ancient Greeks were so appalled by this, that they declared that his name would not be written down so he would not be remembered, yet someone did indeed write it down, shown by the fact that we know it. Later earthquakes and burnings by the Goths left the temple in perpetual destruction and it was later even used as a quarry for the Byzantine city within Ephesus until it was closed in 391 CE by Theodosius(yes, the same Roman Emperor who would later close the Temple to Zeus that resides on this list as well). All that remains of the Temple now is a few stones and a column that was reconstructed on the site in 1972.
5. Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
This Wonder is located in Nowadays Turkey. This Mausoleum was built to honor the ruler of the area, Mausolus, by his sister and widow Artemisia II around 350 BCE. Greek Architect Pythius and Greek Sculptor Satyros were the ones that designed the tomb while four Greek artist(Scopas, Bryaxis, Leochares, and Timotheus) focused on one of the four sides individually. It had an eclectic style- a mix of Greek, Near Eastern, and Egyptian Architecture. It was in the shape of a square like a step pyramid, depicting battles the Greeks were involved in with a 10 foot tall statue of Mausolus upon a chariot.
Like previously mentioned Greek Wonders, this monument was destroyed by an earthquake somewhere between 11th-15th century CE and was later used as a quarry for the nearby Bodrum Castle. It really is quite a sad situation to see, though at least it stood for quite a long time before nature struck. Mausolus was the ruler who chose Helicarnassus(where this tomb resided) as his capital city in 370 BCE; he added to the city, helping it grow and thrive even more. Upon his death in 353 BCE, this tomb was created at the behest of his wife, though she died in 350 BCE and was later placed within the tomb alongside her brother/husband.
In terms of nationality, Caria(the area Helicarnassus resided in) was in quite the situation at this time. Though under Persian rule from 546 BCE, the Carian’s joined the Ionian revolt against Persian King Darius I and many of the coastal cities joined the Greek Delian League. Then, in the 4th century BCE, Caria rejoined Persia as a separate satrapy(provincial government) under Masolus’s family. So, even though they were technically a part of Persia, they were incredibly Hellenized and semi-independent from the actual Persian Empire. But, despite its complex situation, I consider the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus as a Greek Monument since all six of the men that designed and built it were Greek, even if they pulled in some Near Eastern and Egyptian architecture and technically built it in Persia.
6. Colossus of Rhodes
This Wonder of the World had perhaps the shortest existence of all- only standing for 54 years. In 305 BCE, Antigonus I(Alexander the Great’s successor who controlled Macedon and Northern Greece) sent Demetrius Poliorketes to lay siege on the city of Rhodes. Upon his defeat, Demetrius left his supplies behind; in a move of revenge, the citizens of Rhodes sold the weapons, raised more money, and decided to build the Colossus to honor the god, Helios. Sculptor Chares of Lindos spent 12 years building the statue, finally completing it in 280 BCE. Made of a white marble base and a bronze body, it stood 110 feet(33 meters) tall.
But, in 226 BC, a strong earthquake struck the city, breaking the Colossus at its knees and causing it to fall into the waters below. They were wondering if they should rebuild it(Ptolemy II of Egypt, Antigonus I’s rival and Rhodes’ ally, even offered to pay the costs) when an oracle forbade them from doing so, ending the short reign of this Wonder of the World. It would lay in ruins until 654 CE when the Arabs invaded Rhodes, taking the ruins of the Colossus and selling them to Jews in Syria. Despite common belief, the City of Rhodes says that the Colossus of Rhodes did not straddle the entrance to Rhodes’ Harbor like a sort of bridge, but more than likely was firmly on the shore itself.
7. Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria
Built on the small islet of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt’s harbor, the lighthouse was created by Ptolemy I starting in 280 BCE and finished a few decades later by his son Ptolemy II. Ptolemy I was a Greek General who Alexander the Great left behind to rule Egypt after he conquered it; he became Pharaoh in 305 BCE before passing away in 282 BCE. At 330 feet(over 100 meters) tall, the only structure taller than it in the world was the Great Pyramid of Giza which resided within the same country. The Lighthouse stood for over 1,600 years, a lit fire at the top lighting the way throughout the harbor with a bronze mirror intensifying the light of it.
At the time, Alexandria had only been around since 331 BCE and was filled with Greek citizens. The Lighthouse was the work of Sostratus of Cnidus and was dedicated to Zeus and Proteus(a Greek Sea god). As shown in the picture above, the lighthouse was said to have three levels that all sloped inward- first level was a square, second an octagon, and third a cylinder. Atop it all was the light of the lighthouse with two statues of Ptolemy II and his wife, Arsinoe, on the ground facing the harbor entrance.
This Wonder stood the test of time and was even turned into a mosque during the Middle Ages. It feel into ruin over time, though, especially when an earthquake struck in the 14th century and in 1477 the remains were made into a fort by the Mamlūk sultan Qāʾit Bāy. It was rediscovered as the Seventh Wonder of the World in the mid-1990s by archaeologist Jean-Yves Empereur in the waters surrounding the islet. Nowadays it has been turned into an underwater park by the Egyptian government and divers are able to swim down to view the remains of the Seventh Wonder of the World.