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The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is believed to have been initially created in the second century BCE by Antipater of Sidon as the first tourists began to explore the Mediterranean. Drawn up when Greek culture dominated the ancient world, the list cataloged the greatest monuments geographically confined within the Mediterranean rim. Although most of these legendary wonders no longer stand today, they laid the foundations of what humans can achieve and continue to captivate our imaginations.

 

The Great Pyramid of Giza

The only ancient wonder that still exists today is the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Giza Pyramids, built over 4500 years ago, brought together tremendous engineering skills and the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. The sides of all three Giza Pyramids have perfect north, south, east, and west orientation, with their sloped walls symbolizing the rays of the sun god, Ra.

 

The Lighthouse of Alexandria

by De Agostini

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, constructed in the 3rd century BCE, was the first lighthouse. Located on the island of Pharos in the Mediterranean Sea, it guided many ships into the harbor of Alexandria. It consisted of three marble towers, built on top of one another, with a total height of over 350 feet. Inside the lighthouse, it is likely that a flame was lit at night in front of a polished bronze reflector, emitting a light that could be seen from a distance. In the daytime, the reflector gleamed light from the sun.


Strong earthquakes in 1303 and 1323 AD damaged the lighthouse and within 25 years, it was reduced to ruins. But its legacy lived on, becoming the model for lighthouses around the world.

 

The Colossus of Rhodes

Depiction of Colossus of Rhodes, circa 1669, by Nikolaus Schiel

The Colossus of Rhodes, a 33-meter-high bronze statue of the sun god Helios, stood on the Greek island of Rhodes from c. 280 BCE. Sculptor Chares of Lindos was commissioned to construct the monument to commemorate the Rhodians’ successful defense of their island against a siege led by Macedonian leader Demetrius Poliorcetes in 305 BCE. Legend has it the people of Rhodes sold the equipment left behind by the Macedonians in order to fund its creation.


Sadly, the giant Helios was toppled by an earthquake in 228 or 226 BCE. Its massive broken pieces cluttered the docks of Rhodes for a millennium before being melted down as scrap in the mid-7th century AD. Although it disappeared from existence, the Colossus of Rhodes inspired artists such as French sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi for his famous work, the Statue of Liberty, which also became known as a symbol of freedom.

 

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Coin dated 117-138 AD - National Archaeological Museum, Florence

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was carved by the Greek sculptor, Phidias in the 5th century BCE. It was 40 feet high and occupied the entire width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it.


The statue was made of ebony, ivory, and gold, and decorated with precious stones. In Zeus's right hand was a small statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, and in his left hand was a scepter with an eagle resting on its top.


There has never been any agreement about the statue's destruction. Some think that the statue perished in the 5th century AD, along with the temple itself, while others argue that the statue was brought all the way to Constantinople where it was destroyed in an accidental fire.

 

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, built in the 6th century BCE, was a magnificent place of worship dedicated to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and childbirth.


Most of the original temple’s physical description comes from Pliny the Elder. He describes the temple as 377 feet long by 180 feet wide, and made almost entirely of marble. He goes on to say that the temple consisted of 127 Ionic-styled columns, each being 60 feet in height.


The temple had to be rebuilt at least two times due to flood, fire, and an anti-pagan mob that was determined to destroy it. By 401 AD, it had been destroyed and left in ruins.

 

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Historic illustration of The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus- Penn State University Libraries, Flickr

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built c. 350 BCE, was a tomb for Mausolus, a satrap of Persia who ruled semi-independently in Caria (modern southwest Turkey) from c. 377 BCE. The best artisans from across the known world were brought in to create the structure, and it was finished in the styles of Egyptian, Greek, and Near Eastern cultures. The word "mausoleum" is now used for many monumental tombs.


It is believed that it was destroyed in the 13th century AD due to an earthquake.

 

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Unlike the other wonders, there has been no reliable evidence of the location or even the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.


Recent excavations in Nineveh, 300 miles to the north of Babylon, have uncovered traces of an extensive aqueduct system, suggesting the gardens may have been located there.

 

Works cited:

Whitfield, Peter. Science in Ancient Civilizations. Grolier Educational, 2003.


Pharos: The Lighthouse at Alexandria, penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/paganism/pharos.html.


Sánchez-Elvira, Rosa María Mariño. “Rise of the Colossus, One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” History, National Geographic, 3 May 2021, www.nationalgeographic.com/history/history-magazine/article/colossus-of-rhodes-ancient-greece-statue.


“Penn Museum: Great Wonders Lecture: Tom Tartaron ‘The Statue of Zeus at Olympia.’” Penn Museum: Great Wonders Lecture: Tom Tartaron "The Statue of Zeus at Olympia" | Department of Classical Studies, 1 Jan. 1970, www.classics.upenn.edu/events/penn-museum-great-wonders-lecture-tom-tartaron-statue-zeus-olympia.


Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus, penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/paganism/artemis.html.


Woods, Michael, and Mary B. Woods. Ancient Construction: From Tents to Towers. Runestone, 2001.


“The Lost Gardens of Babylon ~ Q&A with Dr. Stephanie Dalley, TV Host & Author of ‘Lost Gardens of Babylon.’” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 13 May 2014, www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/the-lost-gardens-of-babylon-qa-with-dr-stephanie-dalley-tv-host-author-of-lost-gardens-of-babylon/1172/.

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