Everyone loves making lists. We all do it. Especially when we’re so immersed in a certain topic, there is nothing more fun than putting together lists, ranking our subjects from the best to the worst. The best is when we get our peers involved too, and debate them over all sorts of things such as which basketball player is better, or which rock band was more influential.
This brings us to an interesting point. The seven wonders of the ancient world is not a list compiled by us, rather one put together by 2nd century Greek poet Antipater of Sidon. The funny thing is, many of these ancient wonders had already been discovered two centuries previously by the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great – and they made some lists of their own. Antipater’s list, though, is the one that has withstood the test of time.
For the purpose of keeping up with current advancements, updated lists have periodically been made featuring the “new seven wonders of the world.” While these sites are quite breathtaking, historians can’t help but compare them to the ancient wonders.
Who’s to say which wonder is better? The beauty is that everyone is entitled to their opinion, which makes these types of debates so fun. It would seem logical however, that when there is a consensus opinion over something, chances are it holds some water. For instance, how can you compare an ancient artifact with a piece of architecture more recently built? The modern piece will have been built with a more cutting edge technology – but does that mean it’s better? The older works of art may not seem as flashy on the surface, but they were made in much harder circumstances, and there is much depth in what they did.
The fact is, they are connected to each other. They are part of a chain brought together through time, and the modern stratospheres of today could never have existed if it weren’t for the ancient pioneers that made it possible.
Before getting into all the seven wonders of ancient world, it’s important that we discuss a few things. One interesting thing to note is that there is really only reason there are seven, and not six, eight, nine. There are many wonders of the world, and there would have been enough to fill out ten if need be. The reason that all of the worldly wonder lists are always surrounded by the number seven is because the creators of the ancient list considered it a typological number of cosmic significance.
At the end of the day, when dealing with lists that attempt to cover the world’s top stunning wonders, it is practically impossible to cover everything. Moreover, while the choices that are made are generally good ones, no one can deny that when it comes to connecting to a manmade structure, it is very subjective. What is that saying – beauty is in the eye of the beholder? So even if you don’t agree with every wonder on the list, calm your cookies. You’ll have your moment.
The first travel list
The story of how these lists were formed is actually very interesting. When Alexander the Great was on his conquest of most of the world around the 4th century BCE, he and the Greeks had access to a large amount of countries – and the subsequent creations of those countries as well. The Greeks were given ample access to countries such as Egypt, Persia, and Babylon – and they would take advantage of this rare opportunity. That is how the first travel list of all time got created.
The original name
Actually, when they first started checking out new areas, and making all of these discoveries, they didn’t refer to them as “wonders,” but “theamata” – which in Greek means “special sights to see.” They all made the decision to make a list of what they thought the seven most important sights were, in their eyes. Naturally they all came to different conclusions, although there were many consistencies. One list that stood the test of time was that of Antipater of Sidon.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Let’s start with the ancient wonder that is perhaps surrounded by the most mystery. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The reason of this is because some people question whether or not they even existed. It’s possible that they were a real creation, but the possibility has also been brought up that they were a poetic work of fiction. Regardless, real or not, they were allegedly built by Babylon king Nebuchadnezzar II around the time of 600 BCE for his wife, who missed the natural greenery of her home, Persia.
Safe in my garden
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are arguably the most beautiful of the wonders – but don’t let Greek poet Antipater of Sidon hear you say that (we’ll explain why later; spoiler – he disagrees). If not the largest in stature, it is certainly the greenest. That is because it was described to have multiple-level gardens reaching 75 feet, with a consistent circulation of water. Unfortunately, the majestic garden structure was destroyed by earthquakes sometime after 200 BCE.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
Another wonder that is known to have brought people to their knees, is the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece. This 43 foot-tall statue was made by the Greek sculptor Phidias in 432 BCE. The statues itself is that of Zeus sitting on a throne, and its grandiose stature is said to have been so large that if the monumental figure of the divine king were to have stood up, it would have shot its head right through the ceiling. The throne itself was made of precious materials, such as cedarwood, gold, ebony and ivory.
The story of the statue’s destruction is actually up for debate. One theory is that people somehow managed to carry the entire thing all the way to Constantinople (located in present-day Turkey), getting burned in a fire that occurred in 475 CE. Another theory is that it perished within the temple that the statue originally resided, around 425 AD. It’s hard to know for sure when these events occurred , though more recently though, coins have been found around this area, each with a picture of the statue of Zeus.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis, residing in the Greek city of Ephesus, was truly a special place. Dedicated to Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the moon, it took 120 years to be built, in 550 BCE. Made of shimmering marble, it is also a top contender for the most beautiful of wonders. However, sometimes beauty can cause just as much trouble as good: hoping to put his name in the history books, it was destroyed by Greek arsonist Herostratus in 356 BCE. His name subsequently became forbidden to mention.
But the story of the Temple of Artemis wasn’t over just yet. There was a terrible outrage amongst the Ephesians, and they gave Herostratus a death sentence for what he had done. Soon, Alexander the great was born, and he decided to rebuild the temple – only to get destroyed again by the Goths. But it wasn’t over! The temple was built once more for the third time now, until it was finished off – again in 401 BCE – by the Archbishop of Constantinople.
But before it was destroyed, it truly was a piece of work that moved anyone that crossed it’s path. Let’s return to Antipater of Sidon – he was so emotionally moved when he came upon the temple of Artemis that he said, “When I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy.” Coming from the “list-maker” himself, that is truly saying something. Thankfully there are still some remnants of the temple that can be seen at the British museum.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The story of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus is actually quite a sweet one. It was built around 350 BCE by Artemisia, due to the death of her brother and (husband) Mausolus – the governor of the Persian empire. The structure is a tomb – but what makes this particular tomb so unique is that it is so unconventionally high above the ground. It is the first ever tomb of this stature, and it is for that reason that all grand tombs from that moment on are called mausoleums (named after Mausolus).
It truly is a splendid tomb, and its beauty was so powerful that Antipater of Sidon knew he had to put it on his list of the seven ancient wonders. It has four square grand layers, extending vertically from the ground, each section getting gradually smaller the higher it gets. It is very much unlike anything else. It’s destruction came sometime around the 12th century, due to a large number of earthquakes. Artemisia only lived for two more years after the tomb’s completion.
The Colossus of Rhodes
When you first gaze upon even a mere depiction of the Colossus of Rhodes, you might say to yourself something like: “Now that right there… That is something else!” And if you did, you would be a 100 percent justified; for not only was this work of art a majestic phenomenon, something like a statue of liberty of the ancient world – but the creativity behind it is extremely unique, making a strong impact on anyone who came across it.
Short-lived wonder man
The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of giantlike proportions, of the Greek sun god Helios. Created from bronze and iron, its height went up to around 107 feet, and that made it one of the tallest works of art back in those days. Interestingly enough, despite being the last of all the ancient wonders to be created, it was the first to be destroyed, in a massive earthquake in 226 BCE. Too bad, it sounds like it was quite the vision.
Another interesting thing about this statue is the way it was physically displayed to the public. Celebrating the victory over Cyprus (for that is why it was built), Helios’ statue stood tall, dominant and important above an ocean dock, with each of its feet placed firmly on two opposite docks, its legs spread in V-shape fashion, welcoming the passing boats. The 226 BCE earthquake would ultimately be its downfall, though, snapping Helios at the knees as the statue fell on land.
The Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt
The Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, made between 280 and 247 BCE, was certainly a spectacle for viewers far and wide. But although it is one of the seven ancient wonders due to its beauty, it is also known to be the only wonder built for a practical purpose, as opposed to a religious, esthetic or sentimental one. Specifically, it was built on an island in Alexandria to help lost sailors find their harbor on dark nights.
The lighthouse was made with large blocks, formed from a special light-colored stone. Similar to the mausoleum of Halicarnassus, its structure was separated into sections. Unlike the mausoleum, though, each section had a different shape: the lower one was square, the middle was octagonal, and the top was circular. It was estimated to stand up to 460 feet tall, making it among the world’s tallest structures for centuries. Its fame grew to such a degree that Pharos, the island upon which it was built, became the Latin word for “lighthouse.”
The Lighthouse at Alexandria’s destruction was caused by a mix of natural disaster and consciously inflicted harm. After a number of earthquakes did serious damage to the lighthouse, it still stuck around – until 1480. It was reported that the demise of the lighthouse came after it was plundered by the Byzantines for hidden treasure, while secretly working to undermine its foundations, eventually leading to its collapse. Luckily, some of the lighthouse’s remains were later found on the bottom of the Mediterranean floor by French Archaeologists in 1994.
The Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt
Probably the most popular, and the most well known of the seven ancient wonders is the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt. And there are many reasons for this. One reason is that it’s the only one of the seven wonders that still remains fully intact. Indeed, if one was so inclined, they could go to Egypt and see the pyramid for themselves. This is truly special, because while the rest of the wonders are fascinating to discuss, there is always an air of mystery – not so with our pyramid.
Here to stay
There is an Arab proverb that says, “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids”. In fact, not only is it the only one of the seven wonders that is still around physically to see, but it was also the first one built. In terms of durability, it’s literally the opposite of the Colossus of Rhodes. It was built to function as a tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh at the time, and it took about 20 years to finish. It’s amazing how it is still standing after all these years.
How did they do it?
Ironically, while it’s the only one of the seven wonders that we can go see for ourselves, this only adds to its mystique. For instance, archaeologists still have not figured out how they were built. Consisting of over two million limestone blocks, and humongous stones of granite, historians have a hard time figuring how they were transported from quarries and distant cities – without the advent of the technology we possess today. Nevertheless, when folks aren’t scratching their heads about how came to be – they simply appreciate its beauty.
As technological advancements make way for better buildings and statues, additional testaments to human ingenuity continue to be built. As such, we decided it wouldn’t be right to talk about the world’s long-gone creations without mentioning a few of their more recent competitors. The works of ancient history are groundbreaking, but their significance takes on a whole new meaning when we take time to appreciate the wonders they influenced. One such example is the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu seen here, whose architectural feats reflect the accomplishments of its predecessors.
The new seven
The following list includes what have been called the new manmade wonders of the world. One is the Chichén Itzá ruins of a Mayan step pyramid in Mexico. Two is the statue of the Christ Redeemer in Brazil. Three is the Great Wall of China. Four is the Machu Picchu citadel in Peru. Five is the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Six is Italy’s wondrous Roman Colosseum. And seven is the Taj Mahal of India. May we all get to enjoy at least some of these marvelous monuments up close.