Out of all the architectural structures that were built throughout history, nothing exemplified the creative spirit of man more than the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, only one of the seven still stands, and all that remains of the other six are scattered fragments and documented descriptions. However, their absence does not mean that they have been forgotten. On the contrary, it only made them all the more legendary. Those who were fortunate enough to personally witness the Seven Wonders in their prime used all forms of superlatives to describe their beauty and aesthetic value. A brief look into the history of the world’s most famous monuments may help shed some light on the genius and discipline of ancient builders and will hopefully inspire us to pursue dreams of equal measure.
In 336 BC, Alexander the Great ascended the throne of the Greek empire. He began a military campaign and conquered lands far into the East. With numerous domains now under Greek control, Greeks were able to travel to various territories that were previously inaccessible. It was there that they glimpsed the man-made structures of other cultures. Awe-struck by their beauty, they created lists called “theamata” or “must see”. These ancient tourist guidebooks detailed architectural sights that were considered to be the pinnacle of construction at that time around the Mediterranean and Middle East. Although many of the lists disagreed with each other, the most popular of these guidebooks were those of Antipater of Sidon and Philon of Byzantium. Eventually, the prevalent use of their versions helped shape the commonly agreed upon Seven Wonders of the World:
Great Pyramid of Giza
The oldest of the Seven Wonders, the Great Pyramid of Giza stands at a towering 481 feet and stretches to 756 feet per base side, making it the largest pyramid ever built. The pyramid was built around 2550 BC as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu and is now the only ancient wonder still standing. Since its creation, the pyramid has been robbed numerous times. The most blatant of these thefts was the stripping away of the polished casing stones that covered the entire exterior of the pyramid by a Bahri sultan in 1356 AD, thereby exposing the dull inner core structure which is commonly seen today. The pyramid was built using massive limestone blocks. Approximately 2.3 million of these stones were used, which totaled to a gigantic 5.8 million tons. The construction method used in building the pyramids is still being debated; its enigmatic engineering is a feat that seems impossible to replicate, even by modern standards.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
After being away from her Persian homeland for a long time, Amytis of Media, wife of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, longed to see the native flora of her motherland once again. Around 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens in order to appease his wife. The existence of this garden is shrouded in controversy; modern historians still do not have sufficient evidence to conclusively prove that the Hanging Gardens were actually built. Still, it is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Greek texts describe a marvelous garden, quadrangle in shape, spanning 400 feet per side, and resting on a checkered, cube-like foundation made from brick and asphalt. The garden was constructed in tiers and featured a wide variety of plants. A nearby river flowed through the garden, in which laborers unceasingly used Archimedes screws to funnel water from the river to higher tiers. The Hanging Gardens was said to have been eventually destroyed by an earthquake shortly after the first century BC and has never been recovered since.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
In the 5th century BC, the Temple of Zeus was built in Olympia. Inside the temple, the prominent centerpiece was an enormous statue of the god himself, seated imposingly on a throne of cedar wood and reaching a height of 43 feet. Made of ivory and gold, the statue wore a golden wreath of olives shoots, as well as gold and ivory robe and sandals. Zeus held in his right hand a statuette of Nike, the winged goddess of victory, while his left hand gripped a scepter made of various precious metals with an eagle figurine perched on top. This magnificent statue was the most famous work of art in ancient Greece. Unfortunately, the Statue of Zeus was destroyed in a fire around the 5th-6th centuries AD, and only paintings and various imitations of it are all we have today to serve as a reminder of its once glorious existence.
Temple of Artemis
Out of the Seven Wonders, Antipater of Sidon’s list considered this to be the greatest of them all. Originally built in 550 BC in honor of the Goddess Artemis, the Ephesian goddess of fertility, the temple was a marvel to behold. It contained more than a hundred gilded stone columns supporting the structure, which was about 370 feet long by 180 feet wide and made almost entirely out of marble. In the interior of the temple, numerous works of art adorned and decorated the walls. Unfortunately, this stately temple met its destruction in 356 BC in the hands of Herostratus, a young man who sought to immortalize his name by brazenly setting fire to the wooden roof and burning the temple to the ground. Subsequent rebuilding efforts met similar ends through looting and plundering by foreign invaders. Eventually, reconstruction was abandoned, and only a few remnants of the temple can be seen at its original location today.
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
When Mausolus, ruler of the ancient Greek city Helicarnassus, died in 353 BC, his wife Artemisia decided to hire the most skilled craftsmen in Greece to build a tomb for him. This magnificent 148 feet high structure held the ashes of Mausolus and his wife. The tomb was surrounded by a courtyard, and the stairway that led up to it was guarded by two stone lions. Each of the four sides of the tomb was surrounded by ten slender columns and adorned with fabulous reliefs of stone warriors, animals, and Greek battle scenes. On top of the pyramidal roof, a bronze chariot drawn by four horses and ridden by Mausolus and Artemisia watched over the surrounding area. The word “mausoleum”, which now refers to any richly designed tomb, came from this burial place of Mausolus. The tomb survived for sixteen centuries, until it finally succumbed to a series of earthquakes. The remains of the tomb were plundered and used as building materials by European crusaders. Today, only the foundation remains at the original site. Many modern buildings followed the design of the Mausoleum, including the Masonic House of the Temple in Washington, D.C.
Colossus of Rhodes
In celebration of the successful defense of their city in 304 BC against a siege led by the Greek general Demetrius Poliorcetes, the people of Rhodes decided to create a gargantuan statue of the sun god Helios. The Colossus was partly made of reused materials from the siege equipment left behind by the invaders, and was a symbol of Rhodian freedom and independence. The bronze statue was said to have been about 120 feet high and stood on a 25 feet plinth made of marble. In a famous pose depicted by various artists, the Colossus can be seen straddling the Rhodian port, with ships passing through the opening between its legs. Among the last of the Seven Wonders to be completed, the Colossus was also among the first to fall; a mighty earthquake in 226 BC toppled the giant. Even though it no longer stood up, the fallen statue still attracted plenty of ancient tourists. Eventually, the statue was broken up and sold by Arab invaders. Today, the image of the Colossus lives on. The famous Statue of Liberty in New York was based on the ancient wonder. In February 2005, proposals for rebuilding the Colossus were discussed in order to boost tourism in Rhodes. Finally, in November 2008, definite plans started to come about concerning the project, which took on the moniker “New Colossus”. If the statue will indeed be rebuilt, it would consummate a longtime dream of modern Rhodians.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
Sailors faced treacherous conditions at sea during ancient times, and a means of guiding them toward safe harbor became necessary. Built in 267 BC in Alexandria, Egypt to accomplish such a purpose, the Great Lighthouse became a guidepost for safe navigation. This giant tower stood at approximately 130 feet, with 28 feet of width per base side. The lighthouse had three regions: a lower square region, a middle octagonal region, and a higher circular region. At the very zenith, a large mirror was stationed to reflect sunlight during the day. At night, a fire was lit in place of the mirror to serve as a landmark for sailors. The light was said to have been visible for nearly 30 miles. It was such a huge and wonderful structure that the word “lighthouse” originated from the word “Pharos”, which was the island where this structure was built. Ultimately, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was destroyed by numerous earthquakes, and a medieval fort was eventually built upon its ruined foundation in 1480. An underwater expedition in 1994 located some of the ruins of the lighthouse; hence, some of the materials that once belonged to this mighty guardian of the seas lie on the seabed today.
The Seven Ancient Wonders, even though greatly diminished from their former glory or, in most cases, completely annihilated by history, still create admiration at the mere mention of their names. They erase all doubts about the capacity and power of the human race. A bridge from the past to the present, the Seven Wonders continue to provide inspiration that pushes individuals to develop their innate talents and channel it toward a noble and majestic purpose. They are the ultimate testament to humanity’s natural abilities and gifts.